“Hey, guys. Come around back. There’s someone home.”
It was early evening when the radio crackled that advice. Fairfax County’s Strike Team was checking out a report of multiple occupancy at a house in the Falls Church area. I accompanied the Strike Team on a series of investigations one evening last week, and observed how diligently the team members approach their work.
Repeated knocks on the front door drew no response, so two of the team members walked around back and found another door. A young man answered, and allowed entry into the downstairs level. It was quite dim; the only overhead light was a small white Christmas tree bulb (really!), which barely illuminated the entryway. The young man said he had lived there for three months, and showed us his room. Further investigation showed three more bedrooms. One was completely empty; the owner’s sister has moved out. Another room was occupied by an older gentleman working on a laptop at his desk. He said he had lived there for the past year. A fourth bedroom was locked; the owner’s brother was at work, the team later found out.
The Strike Team focuses on life safety, such as adequate access and emergency egress, proper stairs and railings, utility hookups that meet Code requirements, so it was quite a surprise for the Fire Marshal to discover a two-burner stove attached to a propane gas tank, the kind used for outdoor barbeques. Propane tanks must never be used or stored inside a dwelling, and this one had a loose connection, too. The Fire Marshal cleared everyone out of the way, uncoupled the tank, and placed it some distance away in the backyard. Three smoke alarms were visible, but none was in working order, despite having workable batteries in them.
By now, family members who own the house had come home from work. The Fire Marshal, who speaks fluent Spanish, advised the owner of the various violations and provided a written notice that described in detail the remedies needed. Inspectors also found unpermitted construction of an extra bedroom on the back deck. It probably started out as a storage area and was rehabbed for the grandfather’s use. The elderly man was advised that he could not stay in the room, which had no windows, and that he needed to sleep elsewhere in the house. The preliminary investigation indicates that the home is occupied by related persons (father, mother, children, grandfather, aunt and uncle). While there are no Zoning restrictions on how many family members may occupy a house, many find a need to rent rooms for additional income. In these situations, the Zoning Ordinance places a restriction of up to two unrelated roomers or boarders, and requires that the homeowner obtain an approved Home Occupancy Permit from the county for any rental rooms. The home will be scheduled for re-inspection by the Strike Team to ensure that the violations are corrected.
A total of six homes were on the Strike Team’s inspection list that evening. The team was able to enter two, and speak with residents at two others. The remaining two houses appeared to be unoccupied, so the Strike Team will return to investigate those at a later date. The work is thorough, methodical, and very time-consuming. The single investigation described in detail above took nearly two hours to complete, and that did not include all the preliminary work as to history of the legal ownership, previous zoning actions, etc. The need for a third Strike Team in the county is confirmed by the caseload and the demands of the community to resolve the issues. I am very glad that the Board of Supervisors will endorse the additional $1 million that Chairman Connolly and I asked for this important work.
Don’t forget: the Recycling Roadshow will be at the Mason District Govern-mental Center, 6507 Columbia Pike in Annandale, this Saturday, April 19, from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. You may bring up to five medium-sized boxes of personal documents for shredding, and recycle your old computer and peripheral devices at the same time.