Man's Ladder Leads To Neighborhood Strife

By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The shiny silver ladder stands two stories tall and is attached to the back of a Logan Circle rowhouse that has become the focus of the neighborhood's escalating drama over crime, private property and personal safety.

To Nathaniel Rabinowitz, the ladder chained to his red brick home in Northwest Washington is his personal property and nobody has the right to touch it. To many neighbors, it is a scourge on the block that should be removed because it has abetted criminals in breaking into homes.

D.C. police and neighbors believe burglars have used the ladder to climb atop a cluster of gentrifying houses on Vermont Avenue and break in through skylights, leaving through the front door with electronics, bicycles and money.

Two homes on Rabinowitz's block have been burglarized this month. They are part of a row of attached houses with connected rooftops. Police are convinced the thieves climbed up Rabinowitz's ladder and entered the homes through the skylights, Lt. Michael Smith said.

"Ain't no other way up there," he said.

Rabinowitz, 60, has owned his home in the 1700 block of Vermont Avenue for 25 years. He said he uses the ladder to climb on his roof and feed birds.

Neighbors say they have repeatedly asked him to take down the ladder since he put it up in 2001 and locked it to the back of his house. But Rabinowitz believes it is his right to keep his ladder up, even permanently.

"It's on my land. There's no law against having a ladder," he said this week.

The situation heated up June 2 when Christine Dodd's home was broken into. Her camera, laptop, bike and credit cards were stolen. Dodd, 35, who lives alone, became fearful for her safety and has been staying with friends and family to avoid returning home.

"I want to sell it," Dodd said of the house she bought six months ago. The conflict over the ladder has eroded her comfort. "My fear is as long as I live there, I'm going to be in danger."

The day of Dodd's burglary, police used Rabinowitz's ladder to get on Dodd's roof and investigate how the burglar gained entry. While they were up on the roof, they said, they noticed marijuana plants growing, visible through Rabinowitz's skylight.

They arrested him and charged him with possession of marijuana. He was released from jail the following day.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company