County officials are taking steps to crack down on the illegal practice of four or more unrelated people living in a single family house, townhouse, condominium or apartment.
The Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee has adopted a portion of the Property Maintenance Code, a component of the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code, to strengthen enforcement. The adopted code has to go through the public hearing process and full board approval before it becomes law.
Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) introduced the idea of a housing occupancy code after seeing an influx of former Herndon residents move into eastern Loudoun County. He said neighboring Herndon passed an anti-crowding ordinance that prompted people to leave.
"People have been flooding Northern Virginia from other cultures," he said. "In those cultures, a single family house has no limits. So unsafe conditions exist throughout."
Henry Bibber, director of Herndon's Community Development, said the town modified its ordinance several years ago to limit total occupancy in a single family home. The town is now working on a zoning ordinance amendment that would strengthen its current regulation, he said. It provides a numerical formula for zoning enforcement officials to calculate how many adults can legally occupy a residential home.
If someone takes a three-bedroom home and converts into six bedrooms, that person would be in violation of the law under the new ordinance, he said. Herndon will be holding its second public hearing on the issue in the Town Council chambers, at 7:30 p.m., June 7.
Bibber said overcrowding creates a number of problems. "The streets are not designed to accommodate this number of vehicles," he said. "The town's facilities and utilities are not planned to accommodate this number of people."
He said town officials are seeking an ordinance that is not overly restrictive and does not interfere with culture issues related to occupancy.
LOUDOUN'S PROPOSED CODE, which is modeled after Herndon's and the state building code, regulates the square footage required for sleeping quarters and other rooms. The county currently has a zoning ordinance that prohibits four or more unrelated adults living in a single family home. It defines family as a group of people living together consisting of one or more persons related by blood or marriage together with any number of natural, foster, step or adult children, domestic servants, nurses and therapists and no more than two roomers or borders.
But the county had not adopted the state building code that regulates room size.
For example, the proposed code requires a living room of at least 120 square feet for a home with three to five adults and 150 square feet for six or more adults. Similar restrictions are set for dining rooms. The code requires every bedroom occupied by one person to be at least 70 square feet. It also prohibits the use of kitchens and uninhabitable spaces for sleeping purposes.
"Our zoning ordinance combined with the building code, I think it will give more teeth for enforcement," said Keith Fairfax, supervising zoning inspector for enforcement with the Department of Building and Development, Zoning Administration.
Fairfax investigates overcrowding situations. He had 29 complaints last year, but none of them resulted in legal action. Many of the situations involved people who said they were related to one another. He also gives the occupants an opportunity to move out to avoid penalties of $100 to $250 per day.
DELGAUDIO SAID the proposed code addresses the three problems generated by overcrowding. The first two involve safety. If fire or rescue workers were to respond to a call to a single-family house, they would not be prepared for an apartment full of people. The other is structure. Some of these houses were not built to withstand the weight of multiple residents. The third is the need to stop the illegal conversion of a single-family unit to a multi-unit.
"I'm not addressing the cultural issues, the noise, the parking," Delgaudio said. "This inadvertently addresses these other issues, but that is not the topic."
Supervisor Stephen Snow (R-Dulles), chairman of the Land Use Committee, said, "We have to be sensitive to cultural differences that lend themselves to more extended family under one roof. It's an interesting issue, and we don't want to overreact."
A public hearing will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the Board of Supervisors boardroom at the County Government Center on July 13.
Snow said his constituents have complained about too many people in a condo or an apartment. "A number of people are paying rent, sub-renting, paying a stipend to live in a home or are extended families," he said. "I don't think we have all of the evidence. We need to start a public dialogue to get more information."
Delgaudio is persuaded there is a serious occupancy problem. "We need a tool to make it clear to individuals who have flouted the laws of Loudoun County, we want to send a message to them to cease and desist immediately."