It’s a hard pill for Ken Andersen to swallow.
The Reston Association can sue residents if their door isn’t the “right” color, but it can’t enforce something as critical as the use of fire retardant shingles?
In the last year, the Association enforced hundreds of covenant and architectural violations, telling residents how they must paint their house, light their walkways or build their decks, fences, and other additions — all dedicated to the goal of maintaining property value.
But in the past seven months, Andersen points out, two fires destroyed several townhouses topped with wood shingles, displacing nearly 20 people and causing roughly $3.7 million in damages.
Andersen, 70, who lives in Cabots Point Cluster, thinks the Association has a minimum obligation to notify members who live in a home covered in wood shingles, particularly given the changes to the governing documents, which were approved earlier this year by referendum.
“RA should tell them, if they don’t have fire-rated shingles, they’re in violation of RA guidelines and Virginia code,” said the longtime Reston resident, who has spent several stints working abroad before retiring as a support and marketing manager with Software AG.
Andersen says he’s seen homeowners in two different neighborhoods replace their roofs without the fire-rated shingle.
The Association argued that this is not something it can enforce. “Basically, [Andersen] is making reference to Virginia’s Uniform Builders Code. Enforcement of that is left to Fairfax County,” said Milton Matthews, the Association’s executive vice president.
FOR MONTHS NOW, Andersen has claimed RA should not only enforce the use of the proper shingle, but it also has the authority. He points to a “no unsafe activities” clause in the protective covenants section of the governing documents.
It says, “Nothing shall be done or kept on the property which will increase the rate of insurance for the Common Area or any part thereof applicable for permitted uses without the prior consent of the Board of Directors or its designee, including without limitation any activities which are unsafe or hazardous with respect to any person or property.”
It’s a mouthful, but Andersen has the clause memorized. “Clearly, putting on a roof that isn’t fire retardant is unsafe,” he said.
Andersen said the clause gives RA the authority it needs to ensure that people are using the right, and therefore, safe shingle.
AFTER MONTHS OF considering what to do with Andersen’s e-mails, the Association decided it will not get involved in the issue.
At first, though, RA agreed that it would advise members about the importance of using a fire retardant shingle.
“As a result of the information you provided regarding state code requirements, we are advising owners in all clusters (and single family detached houses) that Virginia Code requires that [cedar shake shingles] be treated with a fire retardant,” said RA President Jennifer Blackwell in an e-mail to Andersen on May 30. “However, this is not part of the cluster standard, and thus, not enforceable by RA.”
But the advice was never delivered to members.
“We checked with our general counsel and we determined we don’t even want to get into making that statement,” said Matthews, who said liability did not factor into the final decision.
Matthews, who said Andersen has read the “unsafe” provision too broadly, explained that enforcement of Virginia code “is not within our purview.” Because it doesn’t fall within their normal activity, RA has decided not to get involved.
“We don’t want to create an expectation of something we don’t have a responsibility for,” said Matthews.
Yet, according to Blackwell’s e-mail, RA does “advise [Design Review Board] applicants that deck railings must comply with County code or that the property may be subject to the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act.”
In an interview Monday, Blackwell explained that RA often reminds members to adhere to state or county codes when asked about specific subjects, like building a deck railing.
SINCE HEARING RA’S position, Andersen has led a one-person crusade against the Association, urging them to at least contact members about the potential danger of installing the improper shingle.
“There are a lot of people who have issue with RA, but they don’t speak up,” said Andersen. “This is a company town: if you speak up, you’re out.”
Ubiquitous at RA Board of Directors’ meetings, Andersen refuses to let this issue drop despite displeased board members.
“That RA — I don’t know what to do with them. They patronize me, but I keep at it because I want to see a difference,” said Andersen.
Matthews disagrees. “I think what Mr. Andersen is doing is an admirable effort. But he needs to go to the right government entity.”