Weeding Out: DCRA is Cracking Down on Overgrown Grass and Weeds

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Weeds that grow over eight inches high, like these in an empty lot at Third and L streets SE, will draw a fine from DCRA this summer. Photo: Rindy O’Brien

Summer is here, finally. The smell of freshly cut grass stimulates our senses and memories of the joys of summer, warmer weather, picnics and happy times outdoors. This summer, the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) will be stepping up its efforts to keep DC looking good, by fining homeowners and businesses that let their grass and weeds get out of control.

It is official that grass season runs from May 1 through Oct. 31. The DC agency has legal authority to fine a property owner who violates the grass and weed regulations and to mow or remove vegetation from the property. “We are going to be serious this summer about managing compliance of our grass and weeds rules,” says DCRA Director Melinda Bolling.

Weeding out the Overgrowth
“Excessive vegetation growth is considered a public nuisance and a public health threat,” says Bolling, “because weeds are a great place for rodents, rats and snakes to hide.” High grasses and weeds can be a fire hazard and, over time, they produce unpleasant or noxious orders. The tall grasses can cause respiratory problems that trigger asthma and allergies. As temperatures rise, weedy sites become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

DCRA enforces DC’s Exterior Property Areas regulations (DCMR 14, Section 302) that prohibit property owners, both commercial and residential, from allowing grass and weeds to grow more than eight inches high. If they fail to stick to that limit, DCRA can fine them $500. If the property is not cleaned up in seven days, the city will send abatement workers to mow and remove the weeds, and the property owner is charged the cost of the work.

“It is great that we are partnering with the mayor’s pathway to employment program,” Director Bolling says, “by bringing new workers into full-time jobs with the abatement team. It helps DCRA get good workers.” Residents can also help DCRA by reporting overgrown property. By calling DC’s 311 system or emailing 311.dc.gov, any resident can file a report, and DCRA will send inspectors to review the situation. It is important to have the exact address of the property when filing a complaint. Consult the DCRA website for more information, www.dcra.gov.

If an inspection identifies a violation, DCRA will notify the owner of the property and give them seven business days to respond and comply with the notice. If there is no response, the city will do a second inspection before sending the abatement team to clean it up. DCRA says that many property owners do comply with the notice. If they don’t, it can take up to four weeks for the abatement team cleanup to happen.

Of course, property owners can appeal DCRA’s inspection notice through the Administrative Appeals Act. Bolling says that some of DCRA’s more emotional court appeals are associated with the grass and weed regulations. “Some of the new back-to-nature landscaping efforts can make it challenging for homeowners to meet the regulations. Ornamental grasses are exempted from the regulations, but we still can have homeowners’ organic landscapes not meet the city standards,” she says.

Members of the Clean Green Team, a program of Little Lights Ministry, mow weeds at the Virginia Avenue Community Garden in Southeast. Photo: Rindy O’Brien

Getting Ahead of Your Weeds
In order to avoid the fine, property owners should make plans to hire help if they aren’t able to keep up with the weeds themselves. The city considers excessive vegetation growth to include weeds, grasses, poison ivy and oak, sumac, plants with obnoxious odors and any plants causing hay fever. Regulations say that weeds should be cut after no more than seven days of growth. It is not a one-time effort, and the city will come back and fine homeowners again if weeds are not managed throughout the summer.

One organization on Capitol Hill is providing landscape maintenance at very reasonable prices. The Clean Green Team, part of the Little Lights Urban Ministries, is a program that helps train skilled workers. Steve Parks, director of Little Lights, says the program really has been a success in providing great employment opportunities to public housing residents of Potomac Gardens and Hopkins, a 158 public housing unit on L Street SE. “We currently service 170 customers, mostly on Capitol Hill,” he reports, “and our team of workers offers a range of services including mowing and edging, leaf removal, tree and shrub trimming, sod work and general cleanup of yards.”

There is a core group of workers who have more than five years’ experience with the Clean Green Team. Currently, nine members who rotate in teams do the work. “We often have the same team members returning to a customer because they know the yard and what is needed,” Parks says.

The Clean Green Team is trained by D&A Dunlevy Landscapers company, which has 30-plus years of landscape work in the area.

Clean Green Team charges $85 for an hour of work by a team of three workers. Parks says that most customers find two hours more than covers the work needed. If the team is planting new plants, customers can negotiate with the office on the pricing of plants or can purchase the plants independently. To look into hiring the Clean Green Team, you can call Little Lights at 202-548-4021 or fill out a contact form online at www.littlelights.org/programs-all/clean-green-team.

Whether you hire the Clean Green Team or other landscape and garden companies or do it yourself, it is your responsibility to keep your property from becoming overgrown with weeds and high grasses. It’s the law, and it helps keep our community looking good.

 

Long-time Hill resident and gardener Rindy O’Brien is better at growing weeds than grass, but always keeps them maintained. She can be contacted at rindyobrien@gmail.com.