A single-family home in Lorton must be demolished after Fairfax County Health inspectors discovered irreparable structural damage and over 100 cats living on the premises.
Working with Fairfax County Police Department's Animal Services division, health inspectors first visited the house, located on Lorfax Drive, on Wednesday, July 13, and discovered the home, built in 1951, had major issues.
"What (they) saw was a floor on the main level that was sagging anywhere from a foot and a half to 2 feet. The ceiling was dipping approximately a foot and a half as well," said John Yetman, environmental health specialist for the Fairfax County Department of Health. "It was in an extremely deteriorated condition."
According to police reports, officers first discovered approximately 30 cats inside the home, some in crates without access to food or water, and others with overflowing litter boxes inside their cages. Yetman said because of the ramshackle nature of the house, it took a while to round up all the cats on the property.
"So much had failed on this house that the animals were able to enter and exit through various holes," he said. "We instructed animal control they could not go inside the house."
Animal control set traps for the cats on the property, and recovered another 75 cats as of Friday, July 22.
The property owners, 71-year old Margaret Gaffney and 40-year old Walter Gaffney, were given an unfit owner petition and told the house had to be leveled.
"Our office has ordered the house to be brought down," said Yetman, who said the health department bases its decisions to order the owners to demolish a house on a case-by-case basis.
"It's still their land, they can build something on it," he said.
THE GAFFNEY'S home may have caused health inspectors problems, but it was the cats that drove neighbors crazy. Trina Webb, who lived in an adjacent lot on Kiger Street, said from the moment her family moved into the house eight years ago, the cats were a fact of life.
"They basically lived underneath our porch and our shed and our pickup truck. You would hear them fighting and crying at night," she said. "We learned to just kind of live with it, because the cats were not aggressive, or anything like that."
Nonetheless, Webb and her husband sold their home earlier this month, and closed on it on July 19, a week after health inspectors first arrived at the home across the street.
Although Webb cited the need for a bigger house, she said the eyesore on Lorfax was another reason for moving.
"It was a partial reason. We wanted to be in a neighborhood with a (homeowners association), and we figured that moving into a neighborhood with an HOA would prevent challenges with the structure of their home, the way they cared for their animals," she said.
Mike Ryan, who moved into the Webb's house, said he was oblivious to both the cats and the state of the house across the street when he moved in.
"I didn't even know the house was there," said Ryan, a U.S. Army officer who moved with his wife and two children from Georgia. He expressed relief that the situation had resolved itself before he moved in.
"That would have been a disaster," he said. "Moving in across the street and finding out there are cats living (there). I'd have been concerned about that."
Ryan said that when his family first considered the house, he was curious that the house — which he bought for $799,000 — sat on the market for a month, and had originally been listed for $829,000, much less than a house for sale around the corner which he said was listed for $1.2 million.
"I kept thinking to myself, 'A house like this, in this neighborhood, what gives?'" he said.
Long & Foster agent Tina Pettis said she didn't believe the poor condition of the Gaffney's house would affect present or future home sales in the neighborhood.
"I don't think it had anything to do with the neighborhood," she said. "I think it was just the time of the year we ended up putting it on the market."
ACCORDING TO Fairfax County property tax records, the Gaffney's home was purchased in 1977 for $7,100. In the past five years, the assessed value of the home nearly quadrupled, rising from $71,925 in 2000 to a most recent assessed value of $284,620.
The initial call to the Health Department came from a private citizen, although Yetman would not say if it was a neighbor. He said since two other cat-hoarding incidents in Fairfax County in early July, his office has received an increased number of calls regarding both animals and condition of homes.
"Not all of them were valid, in that we found a code violation. It doesn't mean the person who called didn't have a legitimate concern, we just didn't find a code violation," said Yetman. "We treat every complaint the same. It's investigated, and we go out and evaluate it on our standards."