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Living in a Home Cited as Overcrowded

Herndon resident responds to official accusations of excessive occupancy violations.

It was a little after 9 p.m. on a typical Tuesday night, and Herndon resident John Salazar’s 2-year-old son was playing with his toys quietly on the rug in the center of his living room, a Spanish-language "telenovela" soap opera playing on the mid-sized television. The smell of freshly-cooked fish and vegetables from dinner still hung in the air as Salazar, still wearing his work shirt with the name of his moving company, sat down on his couch and leaned back to relax after a 12-hour workday.

Just one night earlier, during an Oct. 24 Herndon Town Council public session, it was this same house that Town Council members declared a "detriment" to the community as they unanimously approved the town to file a civil suit for injunction against the owner of the home on the 1200 block of Sterling Road, for what the town says are three uncorrected overcrowding violations.

"It all started with somebody complaining about me fixing a fence out back without a license," Salazar said as he leaned in, his hands on his knees. "The next thing I know, they’re giving me fines for the lights that aren’t working in my deck … or a hole in the wall."

There have been no fines levied on anyone for building code violations at the property, although a complaint alleging failure to obey a stop work order filed by the town earlier this year for lack of proper building permits is currently active, according to building inspection officials with the Town of Herndon.

Salazar said that he was not involved in the construction of the project cited for violations by the town.

According to Salazar, when town investigators began inspecting the house, complaints had been filed against him for things like unfinished walls and non-working light fixtures on an enclosed sunroom attached to the back of the house. He added that the town once towed a car that was parked in the driveway of a vacant neighboring property and originally charged him $100 to get it back.

IT IS MONEY that Salazar, the sole breadwinner who at the time was taking care of two small children and a pregnant wife, could not afford to spend.

"I have two kids, one on the way and I need to pay for them, I can’t be throwing away money like this," Salazar said. "We’re just trying to live our lives here. I don’t get it."

After the fines, he said, they turned their eyes on the number of people living in the house, which eventually led to the civil injunction to halt all zoning violations that was filed in Fairfax County Circuit Court earlier this month.

The suit alleges that the property is occupied by 10 individuals, four of whom are minors. As there are more than five adults who are not part of an immediate family, the complaint reads, the house is therefore over-occupied, as of a town notice sent to the owner of the house on July 13.

While Salazar admits that there had been two "family friends" living in the house at that time, those two people have since left. He added that neither he nor his family knew of the charges approved by the Town Council before he was approached to speak about this issue. The suit continues to read that the problem had failed to be abated, or resolved.

SALAZAR IS NOT the owner of the house and said he has only rented the home with his family for one year. His family and the current total occupants of the house, he claims, are himself, his wife, their two infant children, his cousin and his wife and their two infant children.

The four-bedroom home where Salazar and his family live is owned primarily by Jenny Crevoisier-Flores of Bristow, Va., according to court and property records. Crevoisier-Flores, along with the three other defendants listed in the official complaint, are being charged in Fairfax County Circuit Court for three civil violations associated with overcrowding, including over occupancy of a dwelling unit and failure to meet the definitions of a family.

SEVERAL REQUESTS for an interview with Crevoisier-Flores were ignored.

Santa Nunez, of Centreville, and two minors, all listed as "joint tenants" of the property, are listed alongside Crevoisier-Flores in the complaint filed by the Town of Herndon.

While several hundred potential violations of over-occupancy ordinances are investigated by town staff every year only a select few deemed more serious are met with a complaint for an injunction in Fairfax County Circuit Court, according to Herndon town attorney Richard Kaufman. So far, no fines have been imposed on the owners of the property for overcrowding violations.

Kaufman refused to comment on what specifically led the town to file a suit for injunction in this case.

"In my opinion this was a serious case of alleged overcrowding," Kaufman said. "The town always tries to abate any violations before they are taken to this level, and most people comply with the court order … in this case the defendant did not."

A review of official records of similar injunctions filed by the Town of Herndon in Fairfax County Circuit Court involving overcrowding allegations showed that there have been four complaints, including the case against Flores, filed since mid-2004.

Of the three other injunctions, one remains active while the other two have been resolved after owners agreed to abate the violations and allow for regular inspections, according to court records.

While the Town of Herndon levied civil penalties on all of those property owners prior to filing the suit for injunction, there have been no fines imposed as of yet on Flores or her co-defendants.

All of the properties allegedly violated the same ordinance, alleging too many non-related individuals found to be living in a home of its size.

As the case is ongoing, Kaufman and senior community inspector Bill Edmonston, head of Herndon’s zoning enforcement team, refused to comment on specifics of the violations.

THE PROPERTY on the 1200 block of Sterling Street that is accused of over occupancy violations has been a problem for a long time, said Herndon Town Council member Bill Tirrell.

"There have been calls about that house for years, parties, noise, generally speaking it was not a good thing going on," Tirrell said, who added that while he had not personally witnessed any of the specific charges, he had heard complaints from more than one resident about the home.

Area residents approached by the Connection chose not to comment about the property on the record.

Since 2003 there have been three calls, all for noise violations, made to Herndon Police about the home, according to Lt. Don Amos of the Herndon Police Department, citing police records. All of the violations were corrected without the need to issue a citation.

SITTING ON THE COUCH in his living room, Salazar points around at the immaculately clean main floor of the split-level home.

"We keep this place clean, these walls are very well-painted," he said, gesturing around the room that contained a china cabinet, a desktop computer with a flat screen monitor and a clean dining room table with a vase filled with flowers sitting on its reflective surface. "We invite the neighbors over for barbecues in the summer, we try our best not to bother these people, I don’t understand why they complain."

After amending the problem of the two extra adults living in the house, Salazar said that he wants to be left to live peacefully with his family without the threat of fines or anonymous complaints from neighbors.

Stepping into his sunroom, Salazar moves to a back window and switches on an outdoor light. In the yard sat a row of garbage cans and a refrigerator pushed against the house.

"See that [refrigerator]? That’s only been there for two days, I replaced it with the new one here," Salazar said. "I better move it in two more [days] or I’ll be in trouble for that, too."