Denver Government

How Denver Dealt With This Giant Trash Pile and Rat Magnet

The trash pile lingered for weeks.
The trash pile lingered for weeks. Photo by Michael Roberts
All news is local — but some news really gets people where they live.

Take the story of a trash pile behind a home in the Skyland neighborhood that grew large enough to become a haven for a wide array of urban vermin, and whose presence left nearby residents at wit's end for weeks. The giant mound of refuge is gone now, but it disappeared only after Westword started asking questions about it.

Trash is a hot topic in Denver right now, particularly given the controversy over homeless encampments in advance of the July 13 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. However, this particular rubbish collection accumulated differently.

We learned of this mountain of mess from Bruce Wechsler, who described "a sickening amount of trash piled up in the alley" behind a home on the 2800 block of Fillmore Street. "It was left there by former tenants. The trash has been sitting there for more than two weeks. It is attracting raccoons, rats, mice and birds. The trash pile constitutes a health hazard to those of us living on the block bounded by 28th Avenue, 29th Avenue, Fillmore Street and Milwaukee Street."

That's a residential stretch in which classic, 20th-century homes sit alongside recently built modern structures. And Wechsler stressed that he wasn't the only person concerned about the trash. By his count, "at least three neighbors complained to Neighborhood Inspections and Solid Waste."

City inspectors subsequently contacted the property owner, who arranged for the delivery of a dumpster and a crew to fill it with contents from inside the home — but despite being informed about the alley pile, the workers left it moldering in place. Meanwhile, Wechsler says, a Solid Waste Management representative told him that "because the trash is on private property, they cannot touch it."

After hearing from Wechsler, we reached out to Laura Swartz, spokesperson for Denver's Community Planning and Development department. She reported that an inspector with the city's Zoning and Neighborhood Inspections (ZINS) team had issued a warning to the property owner based on the complaints that gave him ten days to comply or face a $150 citation. That ten-day period had expired about a week before Westword made inquiries and documented the trash heap — and the next day, the pile was finally removed.

What should you do if you're faced with a similar scenario? "Residents who have property maintenance concerns like this should report them to 3-1-1 (dial 311 from within Denver) or go online to pocketgov.org, and the city will send an inspector to investigate," Swartz recommends.

With any luck, that'll happen before the raccoons and rats move in.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts