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Votes

Council Tackles 'Underground' Boarding Houses

Town threatens to sue property owners for zoning violations.

In swift and unanimous agreement on two resolutions at last week's public session, the Town Council voted to authorize the town attorney to sue four local property owners who are accused of running illegal transient boarding houses in Herndon.

Henry Bibber, the director of Community Development, applauded the council's stand. The issue of overcrowding is a very important one, Bibber said. "If overcrowding is allowed to persist it can run down the town's residential area," he said. "People overuse the house and there is a noticeable physical decline and dis-investment in our neighborhoods."

A temporary boarding house business is prohibited under the town's zoning ordinance, town attorney Richard Kaufman said.

The Town Council's first resolution makes it possible for Kaufman to "prepare, file and prosecute a suit for injunction against Vladimir I. Perez and Carlos A. Perez to prohibit the conduct of a transient room rental business at 1118 Bicksler Drive."

Councilman Michael O'Reilly, who along with all six other council members voted to approve the resolution, said he relied upon the advice and counsel of Richard Kaufman, the town attorney. "He advised us to seek injunctive relief," O'Reilly, who said he was not familiar with the particulars of the two cases, said. "Lawsuits are the only way to fix this overcrowding issue."

<b>COLLEEN HARP THINKS</b> it's about time that the town is stepping into alleviate the problem. A stay-at-home mom for her two children, Harp says she has seen the problem of overcrowding and frequent tenant turnover play out from her kitchen window. Harp lives at 1120 Bicksler Drive. "The lawsuit doesn't shock me," she said. "Because I know it's true, I see it everyday."

Harp says she and her husband were tired of being the "bad guy" by complaining about her neighbors. "We had finally given up," the 13-year resident of Bicksler Drive said. "We had thrown up our hands thinking nothing would ever get resolved."

According to Councilman John De Noyer, part of the delay is procedural in nature. "We hope we don't have to go to these lengths," he said. "In these cases, we had issued several warnings. We were ultimately at the end of our ropes. If we get no response, we have to go to the courts."

Harp said she has complained to the town, police and homeowner's association — anyone that would listen — on numerous occasions, to no avail. She is only cautiously optimistic that this potential lawsuit will fix the problem. Councilman Dennis Husch understands the frustration that Harp, and other neighbors like her, must feel. "If any complaint can be made about the process," the council member said, "it is that it takes too long, but everybody has their property rights and the violation has to be clear to the zoning administration."

While she has counted as many as 10 occupants in her neighbor's home, she says it is not the increased noise that poses the biggest headache. "It just becomes really annoying because of all the increased traffic at all hours of the day and night and they don't have any incentive to keep up their homes and yards," she said. "It's hard to keep track of just how many people are living there at any one time."

Husch said the problem of overcrowding is only getting worse in Herndon. Husch estimated that the Office of Community Development has "20 or 25" similar cases on the books. Bibber, downplayed the number but agreed with Husch on the importance of the overcrowding issue. Bibber said his staff is currently working on about half a dozen similar cases.

"We are not going to tolerate this kind of attack on our community," said Husch. "We are going to put a stop to this because the courts are the arena of last resort."

<b>VLADIMIR PEREZ, WHO OWNS</b> the Bicksler Drive property named in the resolution said he did not know of any action taken by the Town Council. Perez said he is currently renting the property to a family and that there "are no more than six residents" in the house currently. The current tenants moved in after signing a one-year rental agreement, Perez said. Perez also said he had recently paid a $100 fine and was under the impression that the case was closed.

According to Bibber, the $100 fine was likely a result of a violation notice that his department sends out in cases like these. "The violation notice is effectively a cease and desist letter," Bibber said.

The notice and fine will only be sent out after an extensive inspection and investigation period, he said.

The council's second resolution sanctioned a similar lawsuit against Humberto F. Navarro and Rosali F. Menjivar who, according to city officials, are running a boarding house at 703 Herndon Woods Court.

In their resolution's language, council members approved the suit in order "to protect and persevere the high residential quality of the Town's single family and other residential communities where unregulated business uses ... exert a material, adverse effect on the quality of life of the residents."

Tariq Bhatti lives three doors down from the Herndon Woods townhouse named in Tuesday's resolution, but he says he hasn't seen anything out of the ordinary. "I have no concerns or complaints about my neighbors," the Dulles cab driver said, standing on his front porch. "If they have anything going there, I haven't noticed it at all."