The Trash Wars
It’s not so much the crime, it’s the grime that most irks city residents. The city’s sanitation enforcement efforts, bolstered by $50 fines, are working—but at a higher price than anticipated.

by Alice Cherbonnier

       THE OWNER OF A RENTAL PROPERTY receives a certified notice informing him that trash has been set out improperly by his tenants. The notice comes with a $50 fine.

       The tenants deny the trash was theirs, and say they always use the metal trash can provided by the landlord. They say the trash was dumped behind their house by a neighbor.

       The landlord can either pay the fine or request a hearing before a magistrate with the sanitation enforcement officer present. The procedure is much the same as when you defend yourself against a speeding ticket.

       Only in this case, the landlord wasn’t driving the car. Neither were his tenants. But he’s still going to have to pay that fine.

       The only way around this is if the recipient of such a notice can produce a videotape of someone dumping trash on his property, or if he can convince sanitation enforcement personnel to inspect the offending garbage for evidence of the identity of the true culprit.

Clandestine Dumping

       Residents who’ve been issued those $50 citations and cannot or will not conform to trash disposal regulations are becoming brazen, dumping their refuse behind churches and businesses at night, making clandestine use of neighbors’ trash cans, or simply dumping their garbage in an alley a block or two from where they live.

       Whoever gets caught with improperly disposed trash is subject to the fine if a sanitation inspector happens by.

       In some cases, the miscreant dumpers place their trash on city-owned property, or in the city’s street trash cans. The city, of course, is not subject to the $50 fine—but the taxpayers end up paying for the disposal.

Community Efforts

       The Charles Village Community Benefits District (CVCBD) attempts to augment regular city sanitation services with a clean-up program covering 100 square blocks. Two employees, using a donated pickup truck, roam the neighborhood, removing trash and debris from post to post. In just the past three months, 135 truckloads were removed from the area.

       Some days, the work of these two workers is augmented by community service workers—people adjudged guilty of “quality of life” offenses. The adjacent Midtown Community Benefits District also uses these workers.

       The two benefits districts share a dumpster, but CVCBD executive director Dan Klocke says the location of the dumpster is secret because if people from other areas know where it is they’ll fill it up too fast. The dumpster is moved periodically.

Budget Cuts Anticipated

       With budget cuts looming, the city’s current two-a-week trash pick-ups plus one-a-week blue-bag recycling pick-ups may be altered. City budget officials say $1 million could be saved if the “blue bag” curbside collections were eliminated. Another alternative under consideration is to have one trash collection weekly for regular garbage, and one for recyclables.

       Another cost-saving measure under consideration is up to 150 layoffs in the Department of Public Works, with the laid-off employees’ functions to be contracted out.

Responsibilities of the Public

       City officials remind owners and occupants of property in the city that they—not the city—are responsible for their property’s sanitary maintenance, rat-proofing, pest extermination, proper disposal of trash, and cleanliness of alleys and street gutters.

City Sanitation Resources

• The city collects bulk trash one day a month. A maximum of three items, including furniture, appliances, and up to four tires with rims removed, will be picked up, but only if arrangements are made at least three working days in advance by calling 361-9333. Building materials, such as sheet rock, siding, roofing materials, or wood, will not be collected and must be disposed of through approved private haulers.

• For information about rat control, call 545-1916.

• For questions about enforcement and those $50 fines, call 545-6497.

• For graffiti removal, or to discuss general concerns and questions about sanitation, call 396-4515.

• To report illegal dumping, call 396-4707.

• Residents can dispose—free of charge—of waste materials at any one of five sites: Quarantine Rd. Sanitary Landfill, 6100 Quarantine Rd.; Northwest Transfer Station, 5030 Reisterstown Rd.; Western Sanitation Yard, 701 Reedbird St.; Eastern Sanitation Yard, 6101 Bowleys Lane; and Northwest Sanitation Yard, 2840 Sisson St. All are open to city residents in their personal vehicles or small trucks from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Sat. For info: 396-8450.


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This story was published on May 2, 2001.