ST. LOUIS - Imagine being blamed and even taken to court for something someone else did. That's what's happening to one local woman who said she's being charged for other people's trash.
But 5 On Your Side investigative reporter PJ Randhawa discovered it's all legal.
Lin Chang takes pride in keeping her rental property in the Benton Park neighborhood in order, but right behind her house are three large dumpsters that service the whole block.
Chang said they're magnets for illegal dumping.
"That's pretty much inviting other illegal [dumping] ... right here," Chang said. "[There] was a lot of construction stuff in the dumpster."
And what's worse is one of the dumpsters is too rusted to hold any trash.
All this mess comes with a price: appearances in court and a $500 fine payable to the city of St. Louis.
"Why am I being punished for something I didn't do?" she asked. "Whenever I clean it up, I still have to pay the fine."
It's something our investigative team wondered about, too. Chang's property line comes to the end of her backyard, so why is she being fined for dumpsters the city placed behind her property?
The city's Director of Operations Todd Waelterman had an answer for us.
"They need to get over the idea that their property stops at the fence," he said. "Our ordinance says your property extends to the middle of the street or the middle of an alley. We hold the property owner responsible for the cleanliness of that area."
But 5 On Your Side Investigates discovered something else: Chang's neighbors aren't being taken to court or fined. So why did the city decide this ongoing mess Is her responsibility? We asked Waelterman.
5OYS: Isn't it fair to say her neighbors don't have the same responsibility? These cans aren't behind their property.
Waelterman: Sometimes life isn't fair. Is it a little extra burden? Sure. She's got a little more to clean up.
Another problem? One of her city-provided dumpsters is so rusted out it can't even hold trash.
5OYS: How is she expected to take responsibility for something that isn't working right?
Waelterman: That hole in that can is on us. We have a responsibility to maintain that can. We don't expect them to move the can and clean underneath it.
But even that admission didn't help Chang with the judge.
So she paid her fine, but said the city's refuse department should do more of their part In keeping the streets clean.
"The city — if it's your job and we're paying you for it — do your job and clean it up," said Chang.
Trash pickup fees were recently increased by $3. That money, Waelterman said, will go toward new dumpsters and upgrading surveillance cameras to catch illegal dumpers.
Chang may be eligible to get one of those cameras installed in her alley.
In the meantime, she said she has hired cleaners and monitors the alley twice a week.
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