HOUSING CODE VIOLATIONS
Connolly Proposes County Strike Force
Friday, April 6, 2007
Faced with a rising volume of complaints about overcrowded housing and other zoning violations, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly is calling for a "strike force" of inspectors to target specific neighborhoods and crack down on offending property owners with fines and even jail sentences.
Connolly (D) and other board members have encountered a surge in complaints that fall under a broad category of "neighborhood preservation." The grievances concern abandoned automobiles, illegal home additions, trash and the operating of businesses in residential districts. The complaints are widespread but with a concentration in the Lee, Mason and Braddock districts, which have 1950s and '60s housing stock.
Reports of single-family homes being used as boarding houses rose about 80 percent from 2004 to 2006, from 407 to 738. In Fairfax and most other Virginia communities, single-family homes must be occupied by people related by blood or marriage, with no more than an additional two non-family members. No more than four unrelated people can live in any home. Violations are punishable by fines of up to $1,500.
At a Lee District town meeting March 24, Connolly was peppered with questions and complaints from residents who say county zoning inspectors have been lax toward chronic violators. After the meeting, he said, he asked County Executive Anthony H. Griffin to assemble a cross-agency strike force of zoning, health, building and fire inspectors to tighten enforcement.
"I'm not talking about studying it. I'm talking about a strike force," said Connolly, who recently announced his candidacy for reelection in November to a second term as chairman. "Let's descend on a couple of targeted neighborhoods and fix some problems. If we have to arrest some people, let's arrest some people. If we have to fine some people, let's fine some people. The county must intervene to protect the integrity of its neighborhoods."
Griffin did not return a phone message yesterday seeking comment. County law does not provide for jail sentences in the case of zoning violations. County attorneys could, however, seek contempt of court citations for violators who repeatedly refuse to fix problems.
Complaints have been frequent in Lee District neighborhoods such as Crestwood, Virginia Hills and Springfield Estates, where residents say many of the 1950s-era brick ranch houses and ramblers are overcrowded with Latino immigrants. Residents say they're concerned about noise, increased traffic and trash, not ethnicity.
Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) said he supports the idea as long as it is "a sustained and organized effort" that involves the communities to be targeted.
"I welcome the chairman recognizing this as a countywide problem," Kauffman said. "I just want to be sure there is a kitchen-table understanding of what we're doing."
When complaints are valid, residents say, they take too long to correct. In October 2005, for example, a county inspector found that a house on Inverchapel Road in Springfield had a family and three tenants living upstairs with a separate kitchen, and that an interior staircase had been removed to create a separate apartment, which is a housing code violation.
The county sent a letter to the owner, Wilver Galindo, and did a follow-up inspection in November 2005, but nothing had been done to fix the problems. In July, the county filed suit in Fairfax County General District Court, asking for an injunction against Galindo for maintaining the illegal apartment. A copy of the complaint was posted on his door that month. Galindo had 21 days to respond, but he did not. In October, the county entered a motion for a default judgment.
Galindo failed to show up for a pretrial scheduling conference Nov. 7, according to court records. On Jan. 5, the default judgment was entered, giving him 30 days to remove the kitchen and cap utility hookups. The county said there has been no response.
This week, the county attorney's office initiated contempt proceedings against Galindo. A hearing is set for May 11, more than a year and a half after the initial inspection.
Galindo did not respond to a request for an interview.