Every Tuesday Leah Howse got a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call. Free of charge, courtesy of the trash haulers right outside her bedroom.
Since December, when someone moved a Dumpster to the alley behind her house, the noisy haulers consistently provided an unwanted alarm.
Howse, who lives in Francisville, says the combination of the beeping truck, the banging to make sure the Dumpster's empty, and the workers yelling to each other ensures that her day starts early. "It's relatively quick," she says, "but then I'm awake."
At first, Howse tried to ignore the racket, but a few weeks ago, when the haulers started coming twice a week, she decided she'd had enough.
She called the city, and a Streets Department worker told her he would call Accurate Trash Removal, the hauling service. She also tried her property management company, which said it, too, would get in touch with Accurate. She even tried calling Accurate herself. Someone told her the problem would be fixed. But nothing changed.
One of Howse's neighbors, a man named Will, has heard the middle-of-the-night pickups, and says yeah, it's annoying. But Will, who recently moved to Philly from the suburbs, figured the disturbance was just part of living in the city.
There are a whole lot of disturbances that are "just part of living in the city," like feisty raccoons or cash-only SEPTA stations. But 4:30 a.m. Dumpster pickups are not supposed to be one of them.
ILLEGALLY EARLY: Trash haulers are allowed to empty a Dumpster only between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. This is one of the Dumpster-related rules the city started cracking down on after Council passed legislation stiffening fees and fines for violations in 2009. Since then, Dumpster violations have doubled from 4,559 in fiscal year '10 to 9,404 in FY '11, said Deputy Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams.
We don't know why Howse couldn't get any help, but after our call last week, the Streets Department sprang into action. Williams sent sanitation officers to inspect the Dumpster. This should have happened the first time Howse called, Williams said.
Since sanitation officers would need to catch the illegal pickup in the act in order to write a violation, Williams said his officers would stake out the area over two weeks. As of Tuesday, sanitation police hadn't seen Accurate Trash Removal emptying the Dumpsters too early. But that's OK, because it seems as if it got the message: Howse told us Accurate has been coming at 7 a.m. or later since we called the city.
Officers did notice that the Dumpster was not licensed and wrote a $150 ticket to the owner, which is either Atid Property Management or Aqua Investments, a company listed to the same address as Atid (Atid did not return call for comment). Williams said the officers would follow up to make sure the owner registers the Dumpster.
We did manage to get Ken Schenkel, sales manager at Accurate Trash Removal, on the phone. He blamed the early pickups on "driver error" and said that the problem had been addressed.
He also said that the real problem, in his opinion, is the city preying on business owners. He said Accurate got hit with $25,000-$30,000 in fines last year when the city decided to start enforcing its Dumpster laws, including no pickups before 7 a.m. Schenkel said he would have appreciated some communication before the crackdown. "There's no working together as partners," he said. "It's us against them."
Williams said dumpster owners and trash haulers got a 6-month warning period after the 2009 bill passed and was implemented.
KNOW YOUR Dumpster RIGHTS: With apologies to Mr. Schenkel, here's what you need to know about the city's ramped-up Dumpster enforcement, and what you as a citizen are entitled to:
No graffiti on the Dumpster.
No overflowing trash.
If it's on the sidewalk, there should be at least 4 feet of space for you to pass.
The lid should be shut.
No rats or other animals poking around.
If the Dumpster has food waste, it must be emptied every three days.
Call 3-1-1 to report any violations and don't let up till the problems are fixed. Call us if you need more help.
Juliana Reyes reports for It's Our Money, a joint project of the Daily News and WHYY funded by the William Penn Foundation that seeks to explain where your tax dollars go.