Recently a friend asked me about how to deal with a building owner who’s legitimately not being a good neighbor. In discussing the situation, I began to think about where to draw the line between being a good citizen enforcer of laws and being an obnoxious neighbor. It’s one thing to call out an entity like Shiloh or the Parks Service for its stewardship of vacant structures; it’s another thing to call out a well meaning neighbor who is legally mis-stepping without bad intentions. Or is it? Complicating matters is the fact that abiding by the letter of the law might not always be the best thing for the neighborhood. So where does one draw the line?
Here are a few scenarios I contemplate in this post:
+ A neighbor is doing construction necessitating a permit but without one. Call DCRA? What if you know that calling DCRA (and the corresponding stop work order and/or fine that would ensue) would likely undermine the possibility of any foreseeable progress on the otherwise run down building?
+ Squatters are living in a building. The owner is aware of their presence but is taking no action to have them removed. Call DCRA? Would it make a difference if the squatters are a family who would otherwise be homeless? Would it make a difference if the squatters are illegal aliens? If illegal aliens, would a call to INS ever be justifiable?
+ A neighbor is violating his property’s zoned use (e.g., operating a business out of a zoned residence and not residing the structure at all). Call DCRA? What if you know the residential zoning is inappropriate for the structure?
Obviously directly confronting the neighbor about the infraction and/or helping the neighbor come into compliance with the law is probably the best option, but sometimes that’s not always possible. Thoughts?