Left behind: When the dumpster <I>is</I> the trash

Here's a challenge I'll bet the home-makeover shows have yet to tackle: how to incorporate a loaded, smelly Dumpster into a front-yard design and make it seem like a pleasing part of the landscape. Lionel Johns hasn't called in HGTV yet, but if he can't find someone to haul the abandoned container away soon, he may be turning it into a giant planter.

Johns paid JC Trash Service and Recycling $215 to deliver the Dumpster– which is 12 feet long, 8 feet deep, and 5 feet high– to his Nelson County home on April 19. The fee included delivery, use of the container for one week (to load up the construction debris), pick-up, and a portion of the landfill fee.

The Dumpster, however, never made it to the dump. Johns says he called JC Trash on April 26 and left a message saying he was finished and ready for pick-up. When there was no reply, he called "several" more times and left messages, but they were never returned.

About a month later, he says, he managed to reach someone at JC who told him their truck had broken down, but promised that the Dumpster would be removed when the truck was fixed. Time passed, but nothing happened. Johns called the Nelson County sheriff's office, but he says that was "not informative." (But then, the Nelson County sheriff probably gets very few calls about abandoned Dumpsters.)

Johns claims that he also called another company that leases containers and was told they "couldn't" pick up the Dumpster. Meanwhile, according to Johns' wife, the giant trash can is "reeking"– not a pretty picture, as temperatures rise into the 90s.

When Johns requested a report on the company from the Better Business Bureau of Central Virginia, he learned that "due to unanswered complaint(s)," JC Trash has an unsatisfactory record with the bureau.

I called JC at its Charlottesville number several times on two successive days, but repeatedly got a busy signal. When an operator checked the number, she said that there was no conversation on the line, which means that something– such as a cut cable– is wrong. I asked whether I could report the problem, but she said that only the subscriber can request a repair, since the problem may be on the inside. JC Trash also has a Scottsville address (on Albevanna Spring Road) and phone number, which is out of service.

So what's an unhappy homeowner to do? I spoke with Fred Boger, planning director for Nelson County, who agreed that this is a conundrum– but suggested that Johns send JC a certified letter and state that if the Dumpster isn't removed by a certain date, he'll have it removed himself.

I searched for mention of abandoned property in the Code of Virginia, and although I couldn't find anything that addresses abandoned Dumpsters, section 55-248.38 lays out a landlord's right to dispose of property left by tenants after a lease has ended. The landlord is required to give notice and allow 10 days for the tenant to respond– but after that, the items are considered abandoned property.

Lisa Kardell, director of governmental and regulatory affairs for Waste Management, said that Waste Management "would be happy" to remove the Dumpster. After consulting with the company's lawyer, she said that Johns should ask, in his certified letter to JC Trash, whether the company "disputes his claim" that they had agreed to remove the Dumpster. Then, as long as Johns gives Waste Management a copy of the letter, Waste Management would face no liability issues.

Johns, of course, could then file suit in Albemarle General District Court and sue JC Trash for the cost of Waste Management's bill. On the other hand, he could opt to celebrate midsummer by enjoying how great the yard looks minus unwanted– and stinky– metal sculpture.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer, write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902, or call 295-8700 ext. 406.