Obiter Dicta

Trashy Tribulations

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Illustration by iStock

When Edwin House realized his recycling efforts were so successful that he had virtually no trash to leave at the curb, it curbed his inclination to pay a municipal trash pickup fee.

“For a long time I had an empty garbage can,” says House, 53, of San Carlos, Calif., who claims he recycles or gives away items he no longer needs. A garbage disposal and his dog help out with leftover food scraps, he says, and coffee grounds go into the garden.

But in January, about a year after he stopped paying, House found himself on the receiving end of a lawsuit from the city, which seeks a permanent injunction to force him to pay the garbage fee. The city also wants him to pay its legal expenses.

House suspects the lawsuit is a form of retribution from the city for his frequent complaints about the three-story apartment building that was built next to his home. He claims that the area was zoned for single-family homes, and that the building encroached on his property.

Deputy city attorney Linda Noeske says the city does not file complaints based on retribution. “This comes under the umbrella of code enforcement,” she says. “We seek to have citizens comply with the regulations.”

Noeske says that before the lawsuit was filed the city sent House a letter explaining the problem, then a demand letter referring to the ordinance and a request to comply.

House insists he shouldn’t be forced into a contract he doesn’t want or need. “I just want to find a way,” he says, “for things to go to a better place than a landfill.”

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