Apartment Dumpster Area Problem

by Charlotte
(Camarillo CA)

Visitor Question: Should apartment dumpster areas be enclosed for safety and health reasons?

If you rent and requested an enclosure be done and still nothing, what does the tenant do?

Tenants leave food, clothing, furniture, and personal items. There have been rodents and tenants cannot walk into the area without becoming nauseous. The walkway is not sterilized.

If you have a compromised immune system and letters from the doctors indicating the hazardous unhealthy problems that occur, still there is nothing.

The dumpster area is only 50 feet from the apartment. Is this a code compliance issue? Could the dumpster mess be a Covid-19 problem?

Editors Reply: There are several things you can do about this situation. On an individual level, you can and should write a letter to the landlord explaining your complaint and describing any conversations you had with the landlord's representative before signing the lease. If you know an attorney personally, ask them if you can put their name on the letter as receiving a copy. If you don't know an attorney socially or as a former client, look up whatever legal aid society serves your area by doing a search on the internet, and send that organization (which could be called something else) a copy. Of course indicate these copies on the letter so that the landlord will see this.

Next, talk to as many of your neighbors as possible so that you can figure out who is as disgusted with the situation as you are, and who is likely causing the problem. If you have the energy, try to organize a tenants association. (See our article on starting a neighborhood association and do a smaller version of that.)

If you feel you cannot spare the time and energy to start an association, perhaps you will identify someone else who can do that. If not, at least start a petition that you send to the landlord. A petition needs to only be a couple of sentences long, and then you ask other tenants to sign it. (Again, we have a page about that. See how to start a petition if you need help.)

Focus in on what you really want from the landlord. I suspect you will find that you really want the trash picked up frequently enough that it does not accumulate more than you really want an enclosure, since you are talking more about the health problems associated with this situation than the aesthetic aspects of it. You also want the landlord to crack down on the tenants, probably just a few, who are dumping stuff outside of the dumpster.

Now let's look at the code enforcement aspect of this. You have two different avenues to pursue. First, you say there are rodents. This can be a violation of your city's codes, so call city hall and ask about this. If they say it is not a violation of their codes, ask for the health department's number. In many places, the health department is separate from the city's code enforcement unit. Nearly every health code addresses the issue of rodents, especially if these rodents include rats even more than mice.

Second, the regular spillover of trash is a code violation in itself in many cities. The problem is that the inspector will have to observe the trash, so when you call city hall to complain, give them some indication of the day of the week or time of day when trash is most likely to have accumulated. Also you can help by taking photos of the situation on your phone or camera and sending them to the inspector, making sure to document the date and time of the photo is there is no time stamp associated with it.

You asked if the lack of an enclosure for the trash dumpster is a code violation. The answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no. You will have to ask your city. Aside from being a code violation, it could be that your apartment complex has some type of site plan approval that was granted by the city, and if so, that site plan may well show that there would be an enclosure. Ask the city about that also. (This could be handled by the planning department and not the code enforcement office.)

So you see the need to talk with your city, and possibly three departments of the city, health, code enforcement, and planning. Also you need to talk with your neighbors to see if you could band together to have more power with the landlord. Also if your complex has many lower-income residents, you could talk to the legal aid society about whether they would file a lawsuit on your behalf. Of course that takes longer to resolve than you would like, but sometimes the threat or a suit or the actual filing of one inspires a landlord to clean up the dumpster area.

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