The most frequent complaints involve inoperative vehicles and trash, the attorneys said. They generally charge property owners with failure to comply with county code and fine them $100. Threatened with court action, the vast majority of people clean up quickly, Skoff said.
But some residents resist. Notz said the county has 12 serious cases in Circuit Court, where property owners can face fines of as much as $100 a day for not cleaning up. With a judge's permission, the county can clean up the property and force the owner to pay fines, Skoff said.
Sean Farrell, the county's chief inspector, recalled how a few years ago, one resident -- who was cited for turning his driveway into a junkyard -- responded by shooting a semiautomatic weapon. "[He] fired off 20 rounds," said Farrell, who was videotaping the junk.
Farrell said he never thought his life was in danger. "He didn't mean any harm. He was just venting," he said.
The owner has since complied.
For every homeowner who cleans a yard, there's another who puts out an old couch. "It's gotten to the point where we can't enforce our way to community maintenance," Casciato said.
That's why Casciato was hired, Gerhart said. She'll be reaching out to the public through pamphlets, videos and neighborhood meetings. The idea is to get neighborhoods to buy into complying with the code.
In Dale City, a planned community in eastern Prince William, boats sit prominently in front of many modest homes built in the 1960s and '70s. Dilapidated toolsheds cluster behind chain-link fences. The look is somewhere between gritty and tacky.
Some residents, such as Eric Richardson, 38, are uncomfortable with the county's aggressive cleanup program. Richardson, a computer analyst, said he and his wife, Cynthia, moved out of a neighborhood about two years ago to escape the tyranny of a homeowners association. "Now, we're in a single-family home where we don't have an HOA," he said.
He said he does not have an inoperable vehicle or a boat, but he wouldn't mind if one were next door. "If it's fine with them, oh, well, it's really his right," Richardson said.
Casciato promised that her job is to educate people on "minimal" standards. "We're not turning Prince William into a giant homeowners association," she said.
In coming months, Prince William residents should receive brochures outlining what is allowed and what is prohibited, along with bilingual public-service announcements on a local cable channel.
Recently, Casciato outlined her goals to the Board of County Supervisors. Her presentation included an example of an advertisement: a rundown home surrounded by a junked car, a satellite dish, an overgrown lawn and a boat right at the front door. "We'll probably take out the boat," Casciato said.
Supervisor Hilda M. Barg (D-Woodbridge), said: "That would be the real Prince William if you left the boat."