A Fairfax County Circuit Court judge, saying that a condominium association has the right to enforce its bylaws, ordered a Burke woman yesterday to stop providing day care services in her residence.
"This is not a condemnation of child care," said Judge F. Bruce Bach, who granted an injunction sought by the condominium association. "This is a contract case . . . . She entered into a contract. When you sign your name to a piece of paper, you ought to mean it."
The Burke Cove Condominium Unit Owners Association went to court to stop Polly Wilson from providing day care in the unit she rented. In addition to being a violation of its bylaws forbidding the operation of a business in a residence, the association claimed that the presence of day care services would increase its insurance rates.
Wilson's attorney, Martha Roadstrum Moffett, argued that the association was selectively enforcing its bylaws, citing a Burke Cove resident who teaches piano lessons in her home. Moffett said the home day care services were consistent with activities in the community and had generated no complaints, no noise, no traffic and no wear and tear.
Moffett also argued that granting the injunction would fly in the face of public policy in Virginia, which encourages home day care services.
Child care advocates said Bach's ruling, like a similar ruling last month in Montgomery County, could establish a legal precedent that would worsen the day care shortage by compelling other condominiums and apartments to enforce similar no-business provisions.
Citing a "tremendous unmet need for day care," Marian Houk, director of the ACCA Day Care Center, testified that Fairfax County's Office for Children has about 900 such home care providers registered, but received more than 8,000 requests for such services last year. County zoning regulations permit family day care for five or fewer children in all areas zoned for residential use.
Wilson, who qualified with the Office for Children to provide such services from her home, testified that an injunction would be different from shutting down a business. "I feel the children are my family," said Wilson, crying on the stand. "I feel I'm providing . . . an extension of their family."
While Bach acknowledged his ruling would create some hardship for Wilson, he said, "I'm not sure she doesn't deserve it." He said Wilson had read and signed the contract when she rented the condominium unit, and thereby knew the rules. To allow Wilson to continue to operate her home day care service would be tantamount to saying others could follow suit, he said.
Ann K. Macrory, director of the Washington Lawyers' Committee Child Care Advocacy Project, said the ruling marked the first time in the state that a court had found that home day care services constituted a business for the purpose of enforcing a condominium association's bylaws.