It’s a recipe for neighborhood drama: Start with a homeowner who passes away without a Will, add a pinch of a bank that doesn’t care enough to act, swirl in city services that can’t or won’t affect change and add a drop of distant family members who don’t take care of the property. Then let it all sit and stew for 8 years. The result is an eviction, with furniture and belongings scattered over a neighborhood block.
The house at 236 Gallatin St NW has been called a “problem house” and a “nuisance property” by neighbors and MPD for close to a decade. Over the years there have been at least three warrants served at the property, with arrests made and drugs confiscated. On Thursday morning, May 19th, US Marshals made good on their Writ of Eviction served a few months ago, and put out the squatters and residents who were living at the Gallatin rowhouse.
The original homeowner passed away in 2008 without a Will, and a nephew moved into the home. The mortgage wasn’t being paid, while the number of people coming in and out of the house, the noise and the 911 calls picked up. Neighbors were intimidated and unhappy. The property became the subject of numerous complaints for drugs, prostitution, squatters and other problems.
“It’s been a safe place to do drugs, or whatever their particular vice was,” MPD Lieutenant Anthony Washington told me when we talked about the eviction. Lt. Washington took over police service area (PSA) 407, where the house is located, in 2015. “When I arrived last year, this was the very first complaint I received from residents,” he said. “I said I was going to stay on top of it. I reached out to Jasmin Benab from the Mayor’s office, Councilmember Brandon Todd’s office and other agencies to find a way to address this issue.”
Washington made a point of working with neighbors on their complaints about the property, because he felt that resident complaints had real impact. He then reached out to contacts at the Office of the DC Attorney General to put pressure on the bank to take responsibility for the property. With the mortgage unpaid for more than 8 years and the owner deceased, the city had no clear person to work with to fix the property and kick out the squatters and those accused of committing crimes. “The OAG's office became my right hand guy,” said Lt. Washington.
The OAG’s office pressured the bank to declare a representative for the property, who could then request the squatters be evicted after certifying a nuisance complaint filed by neighbors. The bank found a private attorney, Couston Toney, to take control of the property, and then the US Marshals delivered the Writ of Eviction, informing the people in the house that they would be subject to a forced eviction in 90 days if they didn’t move out on their own. The residents apparently ignored the notice and didn’t move out. Several months later on May 19th, the Marshals put them out, including the nephew of the deceased owner and some friends of his who were allegedly all residing in the house.
“The city is working with a contractor to come board up the doors, since just changing the locks isn’t good enough,” Lt. Washington said. Apparently, the doors have been kicked in so many times due to search and arrest warrants being served that the door frames are broken — too broken to properly secure the doors.
After the Marshals did their job, the sidewalk was covered in the trappings of a house, from couches to drawers, clothing, lamps and more. The Department of Public Works gives the evicted 24 hours to remove the belongings before they come out and take it all away.
It’s a harsh ending to a difficult situation, with neighbors who were intimidated by the residents of the house, multiple arrests for prostitution and drugs, and an absent bank who took no action.
Now, more than likely, the house will sell and get renovated, and hopefully a family will move in who will add to the neighborhood instead of taking from it.
According to Washington, the eviction is a positive, final result of cooperation between residents, the OAG and MPD. “This was a lengthy process,” he said, “But working together we got the bank to take responsibility and cleared up a nuisance property. It’s a good example of the community and MPD working together.”