Residents of the 4500 block of Reno Road and surrounding streets say they aren't prepared to give up a battle they have been waging almost 25 years.
Right in the middle of properties with manicured lawns and well-kept homes is a house that has been abandoned for a quarter century, and looks as much. Residents want the property cleaned up.
According to Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Barbara Luchs, the District has twice condemned the property, but nothing seems to get done that satisfies the neighbors.
Alma Peters, whose property is directly behind the vacant house on Appleton Street, believes the house is a menace to the neighborhood.
I've seen five racoons at one time on that property," she said. "We used to be able to see rats running around, but you can't see them anymore" because of the thick underbrush.
She said that poison oak and poison ivy from the abandoned property migrates into her yard.
The neighbors call Luchs, who in turn calls the District government, which sometimes results in the District getting the weeds and grass cut, but not much more.
Luchs said it is a long process. The District must notify the owner of its intention to cut the grass and weeds if the owner doesn't within 30 days. If he or she doesn't tend to it, the District must advertise in the newspaper that the owner will be charged for the work if it is performed by the District. "It can take a few months," said Luchs.
The owner, Louis P. Courembis, could not be reached for comment on why he would want to keep a property that is assessed at $111,766 unoccupied and overgrown.
The neighbors say they have been unsuccessful lately in their attempts to talk to him. But his brother, James, said that Louis bought it to live in and "wanted to remodel it, but was busy with other things."
James Courembis said that his brother still intends to remodel it, but that the work will be expensive now because of the house's deteriorated condition. He said he believes owners have the right to keep their property in any condition they see fit. And according to District regulations, he is right, to some extent.
Joyce McCray, the public information officer at D.C.'s Housing and Community Development Office, said that an owner must create an environmental health hazard before the District can act. "We get these calls about vacant property all the time," McCray said . "For any call, we will send an inspector."
She said that trash and debris--things that breed rodents--must be around the property for them to act. An overgrown lawn does not constitute an environmental health hazard, according to District regulations, she added.
A bill introduced in 1981 by Council Member David A. Clarke and cosponsored by Wilhelmina Rolark would have taxed residential buildings that had been vacant for more than three consecutive years $1,000 each year.
When introducing the bill, Clark said his goal was to both "encourage the return of vacant residential buildings to the housing market" and to fight crime since, he said, "vacant properties are often the site of criminal activity." The bill, however, died in committee.
Many residents of the Reno Road area, including Charles Barker, would have liked to see the bill enacted into law. "If any property sets vacant, it should be taxed," Barker said, adding that an owner would feel more compelled to do something if he had a financial incentive."The District is remiss in allowing an unsafe premises to exist," he said.
A small alley is the only thing that separates Juliette Smith's garden from the vacant property. "It's an eyesore," she said. "It's overrun with poison ivy. It's a danger to small children and it's an attractive nuisance to teenagers."
She said she has spotted teenagers from time to time entering the house. "I call the police, and they get them out of there," said Smith. "I can't understand why anyone would pay real estate tax and leave a property in that condition." She said the neighbors take turns calling the District to complain.
Neighbor Peters said she has also seen people around that property. According to neighbors, matches have been found in the garage, which frightens them because, of fire hazards. And because the property is overgrown, it is difficult to walk on the sidewalk in front of it, said Peters, who is 79. "I can't even walk by there to mail letters anymore."