How do I report my neighbor's illegal auto-shop?
August 8, 2011 7:30 PM   Subscribe

How/who to report my neighbor's auto-shop-run-out-of-his-garage to?

I own a house in Leesburg Virginia. My next door neighbor runs an mechanics shop out of his attached, 2-car garage (he rents the house). In addition to the 3 cars he owns, this means he often has an additional 2-3 cars parked around his house. Since the garage is full of shop equipment & cars, this means at least 5-6 cars are parked on the street outside his house and mine - ALL THE TIME.

Further, they're Hondas and Acuras and this means souped up engines, loud "mufflers" and all the absurdity that goes with that car lifestyle up and down my street.

Who/how can I report him anonymously? I haven't tried calling up the cops yet because I'm not sure its a criminal matter, but I don't want to go file papers at the court or anything for civil bullshit? Presumably there is a "city ordinance office" or something - would they be the people to report this to? What is a likely outcome?

I'm not interested in a confrontation or a conversation with him, as there is no compromise to be had - I don't want to live next to an auto-shop. I want to have plenty of parking available when I have visitors.

Is there a way for me to find out the home-owner's address online? I know the home-owner doesn't know he's running the shop (she doesn't live locally and has only visited the house once by his account [at which point she did see the shop, but he got the state trooper who lives across the street from us to say "its alright to work on other people's cars here as long as the car owner is helping/stays here" - which I'm sure its not, and either way its obvious cars are dropped off and picked up and that he is the only person working]).

Help/suggestions please?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Property ownership is usually a matter of public record.
posted by ignignokt at 7:39 PM on August 8, 2011

This is a zoning issue and will depend on where you live. But it may help to be neighborly and ask him to not park in front of your house before you escalate. He will know it was you.
posted by ihadapony at 7:47 PM on August 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

This dude is gonna be pissed when he finds out he can't make a living anymore because of you.
posted by TheRedArmy at 8:30 PM on August 8, 2011 [8 favorites]

Does your Leesburg have a 311 service? Or an enquiries line at city hall? I'd think that that would be easiest way to get information about where to take your complaint.

(And don't feel guilty - this guy is running an illegal business in a residential neighbourhood, and knows that what he's doing is wrong.)
posted by Kololo at 8:38 PM on August 8, 2011 [7 favorites]

How can you say there's no compromise to be had? There's two issues you guys could work together to overcome that would avoid you ruining this guy's livelihood:

a)The parking issue
b)The noise issue

Are you really saying there's no way to work these out civilly? Plus from what you've said, there's a state trooper across the street who says its legal, and the homeowner knows about the shop and doesn't mind.

If you are worried about being bullied in a confrontation, I would say find out what you can do about it. But before doing anything anonymously, talk to the guy and see if you can compromise. If he tries to get pushy, you could then use your legal info for leverage in the negotiations, and yeah, if he still refuses to cooperate, then go ahead with a plan of attack.
posted by mannequito at 8:49 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Police departments will sometimes have community liaisons or crime prevention specialists who can answer questions like this, so it would be worth giving them a call.

Municipalities usually have ordinances regarding nonoperational vehicles on the street, so if the cars aren't running, you could probably get him ticketed for it. It's illegal in some places to sell cars off the street, so same goes for that if he's selling said cars after fixing them up.

You might also be able to report them as abandoned if the cars are sitting unattended for more than X (usually 48 or 72) hours, which I imagine the police would act on since I'm sure they're not registered to anyone in the neighborhood.

Contacting the owner is probably a good call, since she might be the one who gets the tickets for this stuff if it comes to that. I think your best bet is to find out what the ordinances in your area disallow and be diligent about reporting when the guy does it, so as to make it inconvenient for him to work on cars there and inconvenient for the owner to have him as a tenant. I had someone doing this on my block and they took their shop somewhere else after a few months of being hassled..

To everyone talking about how this guy is trying to make a living, such ordinances exist to stop people from doing exactly what he's doing. He knows he's being sketchy and isn't going to stop just because someone asks, so I don't see what the point of engaging with him directly would be, honestly.
posted by substars at 9:00 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

A little browsing at the Town of Leesburg web site reveals that auto repair is specifically prohibited as a home business. The site also has an ALLEGED ZONING VIOLATION COMPLAINT FORM, but no clear indication of where to send it to. There is, however, contact information for the zoning department.
posted by Bruce H. at 9:06 PM on August 8, 2011 [6 favorites]

I think that, in keeping with AskMe, you really need to talk with your neighbor before you drop a dime on he/she. Communication here can be amazing, and maybe address some of the issues that you have with parking, noise, etc. I work on my cars in my driveway, and occasionally help friends with automotive issues they have. I'm not running a business, but there are sometimes more than three cars in my driveway that need help. (though not every day mind you)

I am also a renter. I am friendly and talkative with my neighbors, and I have lived here for nearly five years. If anyone (this has happened maybe once?) had an issue with me working on my car, I politely stopped, talked with them, and made sure that I wasn't interrupting their lives, while continuing to use the property I pay to use and respect noise ordinances etc. At this point, all my neighbors come to me when they need help around their house, with cars, gardening, lifting heavy things, etc. When I am home, I am the guy you go to when you need help. If you saw me, you might think I'm a blue color guy, usually drinking beer, smoking and probably not educated etc. When I am working in my yard or on my cars I am greasy, usually listening to the ballgame on the radio, and generally a 'dude' (kinda sweaty and gross). The thing is: I double majored in Theology and Fine Art and I work at one of the preeminent art colleges in the nation just below the executive level. I also happen to be really good with cars, which I often work on in my driveway.

I don't want to make assumptions about you. But I have to ask, is your neighbor a minority, or perhaps otherwise different from you that you worry about being able to communicate effectively with them? If that's the case, then simply approach them humbly and ask them if you can talk to them about noise and parking. The street is public and belongs to everyone (separate from parking laws), so that means each car has as much right to park there as any guests you might have. Approach the issue of noise, and being good neighbors to one another. Your ownership of your property is the same as his renting as far as the law (in my jurisdiction at least YMMV).

If you are sure your neighbor speaks english, and is willing to talk to people who approach him/her to work on cars, then I am really unsure of why you don't just talk to him/her and let them know your concerns. It's easy to do the anon call to the cops, the high road in this case may be that you talk to your neighbor and figure out how to make this a more agreeable situation for everyone. Just food for thought: how many times each week do we read questions on AskMe looking for car advice or reliable local mechanics? Your neighbor isn't your enemy, he/she may simply be an ally that you haven't yet cultivated. just wanted to give some food for thought.
posted by Bohemia Mountain at 9:47 PM on August 8, 2011 [9 favorites]

Keep in mind that if you talk to them about the problem first and report it, they will know exactly who turned them in. If you talk to the owner about the problem she may also tell them who it was who complained.

I would complain to the city anonymously. You could move, but since you own the house it's going to be hard to sell it with the noise and parking issues. They are running an illegal business that causes a lot of problems for their neighbors and you shouldn't feel bad about reporting them, or about protecting your own safety by doing it anonymously.
posted by Melsky at 6:07 AM on August 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

Talk to him and tell him specifically that you will call the building inspection department or zoning office about it if he doesn't get it resolved. That way he will know first hand and will give him an opportunity to fix the problem if he wants. Also don't forget you have elected representatives who are there to field your complaints to the right department.

I've had problems with neighbors and regardless of how uncomfortable it is, I talked to them before going to the police. Once they made it clear they didn't care about how I felt then it is perfectly acceptable to call the law and gives me a clear conscious.
posted by JJ86 at 7:45 AM on August 9, 2011

If I OWNED PROPERTY next to an auto shop (legal, illegal or whatever) I'd be really interested in knowing what they do with their hazardous waste (gasoline, cleaning solvents, transmission fluid, etc.) How do they handle accidental leaks? Is your area of the block going to be a health hazard long after this guy moves on? Are his old oily rags a fire hazard?

Zoning laws exist for a reason, and it's not always to screw the guy who is "just trying to make a living". Call the non-emergency police number, or the town government offices and ask to speak to whoever is in charge of zoning.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:25 AM on August 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't talk to him at all. This isn't a loud music or barking dog incident. He's not going to stop just because you ask, and when you turn him in he will know exactly who did it.
posted by radioamy at 9:26 AM on August 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

I went through pretty much the same situation only worse, with my neighbor. Polish contractor, who ran his business out of his garage, and my back yard. I could never figure out why my back gate was always left open, till the day the dog had to pee, and I went out and found like 8 guys standing in my back yard smoking cigs and drinking coffee, loading trucks. Seems the guy always left whatever lumber/supplies next to his garage for his crew, so they just loaded it all in and out from my yard. Left all their butts and cups laying in my yard and told me to fuck off in Polish.

So, I went over and talked to the guy, very politely, and just basically said “Hey man, no offense, but you could have at least asked first. Just close the damned gate. Maybe tell your guys not to leave my yard full of their garbage, and I’ll tell ya what, maybe ten years from now when they have worn a rut in my yard, I’ll ask you to chip in for some sod to fix it.” He told me to fuck off.

Then, it just gets worse. He has his crews out in his back yard at like 5am, running power saws, doing all the prep work for their job that day. And any day they didn’t have a real job, he had them working on his house. Two story decks, with no building permits. He decided to put some sealer on them or whatever, and did it with a sprayer on a windy day. Both my cars got covered in the shit. I went out there as I saw it happening, and the two stooges he had doing it, just muttered at me in Polish. Too bad for you, not our problem.

When we complained that he had his vans parked all over the street, he poured concrete in his back yard to make parking spaces for them. Then he started running his basement as a rooming house for anyone who knew how to swing a hammer and just got off a flight from LOT Airlines. Put in bunk beds, charged them rent, and had them work for him to pay it off.

So I went back again, and said this shit has to stop. If you need to use my yard fne, just close the damned gate, and please don’t turn my yard into your personal construction business every morning at 5 am. He told me to fuck off, he is a businessman and this is America.

Next morning, he has his crew building a 9 foot high fence with spikes on top of it all around his property. For the last 60 years, this particular stretch was wide open yards for every kid to play in, to garden in, where neighbors shared their tomatoes every summer. Then this piece of shit builds the new Berlin Wall.

I called the alderman, and he got on the zoning commission, who sent a guy out to tell him his fence was 3 feet out of code and to either lower it or lose it. Another guy came by with a clipboard, and all of a sudden the 8 or 9 guys who living in the basement disappeared into thin air.

The vans all disappeared. The noise stopped. The guys in my backyard weren’t there anymore. Then they guy’s pickup truck disappeared. About a month later, I mentioned to the wife, Hey, you know I aint seen that asshole from next door for a long time.

A week later, a moving van pulls up and blocks my driveway. A Sherriff’s deputy walks up with an eviction notice, and the guy’s wife and kid load everything they have into the truck, and that’s the last I ever saw of them. The house next door, has been sitting empty for three years.

From what I hear on the block, the guy skipped out back to Poland, owing almost a half a million to different suppliers and employees. He dumped his family, and had about 100K in his pocket, in cash when he got on the plane.

I never wished the guy ill. All I asked was that maybe close the damned gate, and understand I have little kids so your keg parties after the bar closes on Wednesday aren’t working for me.

Im still a little divided about the whole thing. On one hand, I ruined the guy’s life and livelihood. On the other, I tried to be reasonable with him man to man, without involving anyone. Is it too much to ask to just close the damned gate when you’re done?

You know why I don’t really care? The last time I went to him trying to be reasonable, the guy shoved me, and said “Heh, you just some fucking American. Fuck you. I am businessman.”
posted by timsteil at 9:30 AM on August 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yea, this kind of bullshit next to were you live is not cool. It is not about race, it is not about a guy working on his own car after hours for fun. Bohemia Mountain, you are being a good neighbor and doing the best thing to avoid notice-don't piss of your neighbor. Just because you don't like someone or they are hard to talk to doesn't make it some personal failing or racism. This guy is running a business out of his garage in a neighborhood. Everyone in the neighborhood bought a house that wasn't in a commercial or industrial part of town for a reason, so you don't have to to deal with this crap. If he wants to be a mechanic he can open up a shop in the part of town designated for this kind of stuff. NOW if you are living in a commercial area and moved in and are complaining about all the business activity (or whatever you moved in next too that was legal and existing) shut the hell up and deal with the place you bought.

Call your code enforcement officer, usually part of the planning department or public works department at city hall. He is most likely in violation of lots and lots of zoning ordinance and noise ordinances and parking ordinances. The city will get it shut down fast. You don't owe this guy anything, and if he makes a living working on cars he can do it like every honest, upright mechanic does-in a shop with an business address and everything. And yeah, there are realy enviromental concerns with car repair operations, one of many, many reasons they aren't allowed in residential areas.

Timsteil, this guy is just a psychopath piece of shit that should have been in jail. YOu are saint for not calling the cops, INS, and whoever else you can find on this guy. First time I find someone trespassing on my property and leaving trash as part of their business the police and city are going to know about it.
posted by bartonlong at 11:56 AM on August 9, 2011

First step: Educate yourself about local laws. For example, I don't (and would never!) live in a place with an HOA, but it's still against the law for anyone in my area to have more than 3 vehicles on their property -- or to take up more than 2 street spots -- for more than 48 hours at a time. And of course disabled vehicles (pretty much anything that can't be started, i.e., is being worked on) can be towed immediately. Learn about zoning laws as well.

Second step: Talk to him. I know that direct confrontation in such a situation can get scary or even dangerous, but it's also unavoidable if you really want to resolve things.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:49 PM on August 9, 2011

« Older Help me Pimp my international business phone...   |   The care and feeding of boyfriends (in rural Japan... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.