One man's trash is another man's treasure.
January 10, 2013 11:48 AM   Subscribe

The dumpster divers in our area seem to have crossed a line -- a private property line, that is. Would you press the issue or let it go?

My fiance and I have lived in our city neighborhood for several years. It's a great neighborhood. Lots of locally-owned shops you can visit by foot, upscale, historic, family friendly.

When we moved into our apartment, we noted that there were dumpster divers in both pick-up trucks and by foot that make daily rounds. The pick-up truck scavengers swing through the alleyways and pick up scrap metal, etc. The scavengers on foot grab our recyclables. For the most part we chalked it up as a nuisance and made sure to always shred our private paperwork. A necessary and good practice anyhow.. I've always maintained that what they're doing is harmless and I also understand that by law, dumpster divers have every right to do what they do.

However, several days ago I noticed the pick up truck scavenger (an older gentleman -- they're all actually older gentlemen) going through my neighbor's trailer in his driveway. I did not get his plates but he's around every day so it would not be difficult. I also snapped a photo catching him rummaging through the trailer and his vehicle parked to the side with the driver door open. It's very clear and of good quality.

I feel really unsettled. The neighbor rents out his property to several tenants so I'm not really sure how to get a hold of him to show him the photo of his trailer (I know it's his trailer and not the trailer of one of the tenants). Should I go up to the door and show the photo to the tenants? Wait until I see him in passing (this could be weeks if not months later)?

Also, zooming in on the photo the pick-up truck seems to have two nice bikes in it. Who would possibly throw those away? That seems worrisome as well.

My fiance called the non-emergency line this morning to report another dumpster diver who was scattering trash everywhere in our parking lot and also to report the other incident and he was told what they're doing is legal and to go about his business.

What would you do? How would you track down the neighbor or would you let it go? Am I misunderstanding the situation? Are there any other resources to turn to? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? I definitely felt like that after my fiance contacted the non-emergency line.. but I also feel like I have a responsibility to the community as grandiose as that might sound.

Thanks ahead of time! I appreciate all feedback.
posted by somersault to Human Relations (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Perhaps I'm misunderstanding what you mean by "trailer", but are you saying someone is breaking in to something that belongs to your neighbour to see if there's anything worth taking inside?

If so, that's not dumpster diving, that's breaking and entering and theft, and yeah, you should definitely tell your neighbour and report it to the police.
posted by modernnomad at 11:55 AM on January 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

Agreed, can you clarify if it's a trailer like a mobile home or Airstream, or something else?
posted by c'mon sea legs at 11:55 AM on January 10, 2013

When you say "going through my neighbor's trailer" I assume you are talking about private property and not a dumpster or trash can? If so, this has nothing to do with dumpster diving and should be reported as trespassing or theft (if he actually took anything).
posted by Rock Steady at 11:56 AM on January 10, 2013

If you live most parts of the US, you should be able to get your neighbor's mailing address from the local city or county assessor's office. Many of them have this information online, although in some places you may need to call (or even go in person in some parts of CA).

The trailer thing is worrisome (I am assuming it is a storage trailer of some sort here) and I don't see how it could be legal -- I'm surprised that the police weren't interested. If the police aren't willing to take a report, could you try going down to Town Hall to ask around in some of the offices about this? They may have a better idea of who to talk to about this in your community.
posted by pie ninja at 11:57 AM on January 10, 2013

If it's a skip in the driveway, I could see it as possibly "dumpster diving," but a trailer to me says mobile home or UHaul-like thing, which in fact is like breaking into a car.
posted by xingcat at 11:57 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Report it to the police. Don't use the words "dumpster diver" or similar--it confuses the issue and primes them to think it's just a regular dumpster dive. Just say you saw someone going through your neighbor's trailer.
posted by payoto at 11:57 AM on January 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think the proper response to seeing someone rifling through your neighbor's property is to call the police. I agree that conflating this behavior with 'dumpster diving' is confusing the issue. He is trespassing.
posted by muddgirl at 11:59 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

An open bed trailer. My apologies.
posted by somersault at 12:00 PM on January 10, 2013

somersault: An open bed trailer. My apologies.

Then even if it is full of what appears to be trash, he has no right to go through it, and I'd report it in the future as trespassing.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:03 PM on January 10, 2013 [15 favorites]

He was going through your neighbor's property. It should have been better secured, or perhaps your neighbor has a working understanding with the divers to allow them to go through his trailer, but it seems extremely shady. I would talk with the current tenants-- they may know more about the situation.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:05 PM on January 10, 2013

Diving in to the recycling in most cities is, at the very least, costing the city or the garbage collection contractor (and by extension eventually ratepayers or the city) money. This has been difficult for cities to control, but in some cases there have been attempts to say that once something is put in the trash/recycling cans the city owns it, in order to provide a basis for lawn enforcement cracking down on the scavengers.

You might see if you can ask your city councilperson what the state of this is.

As to going through the trailer: Yeah, that's totally wrong.

I would definitely both call your city government and your police department non-emergency lines. It's probably moderately low-priority for the police department unless you can build a little political will about it, but that's what city council members are for. One guy on a bicycle going through the recycling bins probably isn't enough, but if you've got people in trucks pushing on to private property that's time to shut these activities down. Hard.
posted by straw at 12:07 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Agreed with payoto and muddgirl; you should report this to the police, but be careful not to confuse the issue with dumpster diving. Going through someone's trailer in their driveway (which is clearly not trash) is probably criminal trespass, and if anything is taken it's probably larceny. This is totally different from rifling through a dumpster.

The police may be more interested if your neighbor reports it than if you do, particularly if you've already tried to report it and they just heard "dumpster diver" and ignored the rest of it. I'd try to get in touch with the neighbor via their tenants and give them the photos, and encourage them to contact the police.

Depending on the state, "No Trespassing" signs or a fence may be required to make it actually trespassing, depending on the local laws. Though I'd imagine that going into a trailer sitting on private property and rifling through it has to be illegal just about everywhere, signs or a fence ought to make it pretty clear and eliminate any possible arguments about not knowing they weren't allowed.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:12 PM on January 10, 2013

I agree that your language is probably confusing the people who staff the non-emergency line. I live in Chicago where scrappers with pickup trucks who collect scrap metal from the alleys as a livelihood (for resale to scrap metal yards) are commonplace and I have never heard anyone refer to this as dumpster-diving. I don't really think that's what the phrase means.

The same scrappers who pick up metal from the trash (and recycling) will also come to pick up specific scrap on request. It's possible, though I guess unlikely, that your neighbor called them to ask them to collect something from his trailer.
posted by enn at 12:12 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would report this to the police.
posted by empath at 12:13 PM on January 10, 2013

Generally speaking, you can take people's trash from the sidewalk because a sidewalk is public property. The same goes for city streets and allies. There is also likely an additional requirement that the former holder had no intent on reclaiming it, else our cars would not be safe. Regardless, if people are crossing onto private property to rummage through private containers, it would be illegal and the police should take notice. You need to state it close to these terms though, and they probably won't care if the container is a trash can. And for the record, a lot of retired folks run around grabbing steel because they make a few grand a month that way. It's easy money for someone living on a tiny pension, so long as they don't break the rules, and I have heard of folks quitting jobs to do it. IANAL, etc.
posted by jwells at 12:24 PM on January 10, 2013

To find the neighbor, talk to the tenants. If stuff is being stolen, they would want to know and they know how to contact the landlord.
posted by cnc at 12:36 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, I know folks who've left reasonably good bikes on the street with the assumption that someone with more ambition or time or something will take them and sell them or dispose of them. (Bikes Not Bombs was inconvenient at the time.)

People throw out some remarkable stuff.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:50 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

When we lived in the city, our neighborhood had an annual "Get rid of your excess trash" event where people could put out more than the usually acceptable amount of trash and volunteers rode around with city sanitation workers to collect it.

One year I took home all the bikes that were put out for us to collect as trash, and every single one of them was 20 minutes and a few bucks away from being perfectly good.

So, yeah, seconding rmd1023.
posted by chazlarson at 1:35 PM on January 10, 2013

I believe a new slang term for scavengers who go through trash and recycle bins is "skimmers" and I'll sound the contrary note here and say MYOB and let 'em go.
posted by Rash at 3:21 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

i think you need to separate what's going on here - going through trash and scrap and recycling is one thing - going on to the private property of someone isn't related to dumpster diving and scrapping. find your neighbor, give him a heads up, and if you see people rifling through any other trailers or garages or front stoops or anything that's not a trash can, call the non-emergency number and say you want to report a potential theft.
posted by nadawi at 4:16 PM on January 10, 2013

Call the police non-emergency line and tell them you saw this guy going through the trailer, and that you have clear photos of him. Maybe they'll still do nothing, maybe they'll at least contact the dude and ask him why he was on private property and going through someone else's trailer. (And yeah: don't call him a 'dumpster diver' when you call.)

But honestly, it sounds like these people are, as a group, going WAY over the line: there's dumpster diving, which is going through, yeah, dumpsters at relatively-public places like grocery stores and shopping centers; but you're talking about regular, daily trespassing on private property to go through the trash at private homes, and that's well into 'breaking the law' territory. (Those alleys you mention --- are they public roads or private driveways? The trash-strewn parking lot --- public or private?) NO ONE, whether they call themselves a "dumpster diver" or "skimmer" or "scavenger" or "recycler", is allowed to trespass on other people's property without explicit permission. Just as you should always remove graffiti as soon as it's put up, this needs to be stopped before it gets even worse.

Talk to your city councilperson and see if you can get more police patrols in the neighborhood, post lots of 'no trespassing' signs, and keep taking those nice clear photos.
posted by easily confused at 4:28 PM on January 10, 2013

« Older Configuring a room for a round robin activity at...   |   YANMD: Periventricular white matter on the t2 and... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.