A Maryland businessman faces criminal charges for renting beds by the month in his town houses in Loudoun County's Sugarland Run to construction workers from Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The men, who often come from depressed rural areas to work on Northern Virginia's building sites Monday through Friday and then drive home on weekends, live in overcrowded conditions, are noisy, jam parking lots and pose security risks to families with young children, said Mary King, a resident and a spokeswoman for a group of about 20 Sugarland Run residents who petitioned the county for action.
King lives with her two children, ages 6 and 14, on North Cottage Road in Sugarland Run next door to one of the three town houses rented to construction workers in her subdivision. As many as 12 men are living in a three-bedroom town house next door to her, she said.
"It's not a hotel/motel area here, and to me it drives down the value of my property. I just don't care for the atmosphere," King said.
Renting beds to more than three unrelated people per house in a residential neighborhood is a criminal violation of the county's zoning ordinance, which forbids rooming houses in such neighborhoods, said Timothy Krawczel, Loudoun's zoning administrator. He has filed charges against Raymond Salzman, owner of the town houses and partner in the Sterling Motel on Rte. 7, which also houses out-of-state construction workers. The case is due to be heard before Loudoun County General District Court on Nov. 21.
William Burch, commonwealth's attorney, said the case is the first criminal prosecution for running a boardinghouse in a residential district that he has handled in his seven years in office. If found guilty, Salzman could face a maximum fine of $1,000 for each day that he remains in violation of county ordinances.
The problem has ruffled Sugarland Run residents for more than a year. The 20-year-old community north of Rte. 7 beside the Potomac River is popular with younger couples, many of whom are first-time home buyers who came to Loudoun seeking affordable housing in a safe environment where they could raise families.
Steven Stockman, county supervisor for the area, said transients undermine the community's values.
"It's just not conducive to a family neighborhood. It's not what we had in mind here," he said.
But Salzman said residents are drumming up a case against him because they want to restrict their neighborhood to conventional middle-class families. He said nearby residents overlook the fact that his tenants are responsible and "family type" people trying to make a respectable living.
"They really have it rough, and instead of staying in Pennsylvania or West Virginia and going on welfare, they are trying to get by and send money back to their families," he said.
These men cannot afford the conventional yearly lease required for most rental properties because construction work is seasonal, Salzman said. So his 90-day leases, renewable monthly, make working in Northern Virginia possible, he noted.
As for complaints that nine to 12 unrelated men are shoehorned into three-bedroom town houses, he responded: "Never, never, never. Good grief, no way."
King, however, says she has counted them herself. "Overnight guests don't come out every morning with lunch boxes and wearing construction clothes, do they?" she said.
Salzman said he does not know how many people live in each house, but said it was fewer than nine, and added that some residents are brothers or fathers and sons. Covenants of the Sugarland Run Townhouse Homeowners Association restrict the number of unrelated people allowed to live under one roof to four.
Salzman said that if neighbors have complaints about unruly behavior, he will turn out the offenders -- which he says he already has done to three people. But he said that no one has complained recently of rowdiness.
"We want to maintain the neighborhood real good. . . . But a couple of local residents have elevated it and made a mountain out of a molehill," he said.