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Residential Overcrowding Enforcement Improves

By Greg L | 11 December 2009 | Crime, Prince William County | 15 Comments

Earlier this year citizens pushed to get the Prince William Board of County Supervisors to enact new restrictions aimed at addressing residential overcrowding, and they seem to be paying off.  Although not as contentious or as headline-grabbing as the Rule of Law Resolution of 2007, the new zoning regulations make it a lot easier for property code enforcement personnel to cite property owners who are stuffing renters — often illegal aliens — into a single family residence.  The results are starting to show, with about twice as many complaints resulting in citations this fiscal year than last year.

Before this change code enforcement personnel were laughably ill-equipped to resolve residential overcrowding problems.  The rules allowed any number of people to share a single family residence as long as they claimed to be related, and very quickly the targets of complaints learned to claim they were.  The fallback for inspectors upon finding that fifteen people jammed into a 1,400 square foot house were all supposedly cousins was the International Fire Code, which would then stipulate (in a case like this) that based on the square footage that one — just one –  of these cousins would have to find a new place to live.  Except in the most egregious cases, there effectively was no way to control residential overcrowding.

First, the General Assembly tried to do something about this by granting zoning inspectors the power to issue subpoenas where they could demand documentation from persons encountered at a residence to show where they actually lived.  That resulted in exactly zero subpoenas actually being issued.  It was a nice idea, but evidently zoning enforcement personnel thought the process was too cumbersome, and they never used it.  Back to the drawing board.

The new rules enacted by the BOCS limit the number of adults who can occupy a residence based on the square footage of the property.  Gone is the universal “get out of jail free card” of “they’re all my cousins.”  If you’ve got a 1,400 square foot house,  you can have four adults living there.  Enforcement isn’t quite as easy as getting a headcount of the occupants and checking the data from the building permit for the property and will often require some surveillance to determine exactly how many people are stuffed in there, but it is vastly easier to cite residential overcrowding now than it has been in the past.

In FY2008 property code enforcement personnel investigated 510 residential overcrowding complaints, issuing citations in 12% of the cases.  Often this was a result of unpermitted modifications to the property made to accommodate so many people such as second kitchens, basement apartments, or a subdivision in the dwelling.  The new regulations came into force late in FY2009 when 418 overcrowding complaints resulted in a 17% citation rate, and so far in FY2010 152 complaints have been investigated resulting in a 34% citation rate.  I’d think the actual percentage of complaints that are founded are substantially higher than 34%, but it’s far better than the 12% we were seeing before.

My expectation is that we’re going to see quite a jump in residential overcrowding complaints as citizens discover the process actually works to some degree now and their complaints stand some chance of getting resolved.  The utter frustration of so many was that the Department of Property Code Enforcement was entirely useless in this regard, and many stopped even bothering with filing complaints, opting instead to focus on the uninspected or unregistered vehicles occupants of the property and report those to the police.  Another reason for anticipating an increase in complaints is that the immigrant community has discovered that the hysterical warnings of a police state being established in Prince William County were quite obviously false, and with low residential prices in the area we’re seeing an increase in immigrants (legal and likely illegal) in the area.  So not only will reporting residential overcrowding complaints be more attractive because the process isn’t fundamentally broken, but there are more opportunities to do so.

If you’re confronted with an overcrowded residence near you, the chances that property code inspectors can actually resolve the problem have dramatically improved.  Perhaps not to the point PCE is fully effective, and your results with individual inspectors can vary considerably, but PCE is in much better shape to address problems now than they were the last time we had a wave of residential overcrowding.

This comes not a moment too soon.

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  1. Anonymous said on 11 Dec 2009 at 12:36 pm:
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    Greg, there is nothing in the International Fire Code the regulates the number of people in a residential dwelling. Those regulations come from Section 404 of the International Property Maintenance Code. Also, IMHO, it is on shaky ground for this reason. In VA local jurisdictions can not amend the building code. The IPMC is Part 3 of the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code. Again it may not be amended. What PWC has done essentially is amend the building code through their zoning ordinance. It is only a matter of time before some slick attorney catches on. Manassas City was regulating residential overcrowding through the IFC because the IFC can be amended locally. However, Manassas did not change the language in the IPMC, they just moved it to their local fire code therefore, essentially not changing the VUSBC. This was of course before they decide to try to change the definition of what a family is. On another note, the IPMC regulates the number of people based on several things including the size of ther living room, dining room and bedrooms. Most new houses today are not limited by the living and dining rooms, because they meet minimum standards for an unlimited number of people, but rather the size of the bedrooms which must be a minimum of 70 square feet and 50 square feet per person when two or more occupy the room.

  2. Patty said on 11 Dec 2009 at 12:57 pm:
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    Herndon has had this same ordinance in place for a long time. They have not been sued. It is effective and legal. The whole purpose behind zoning laws is to restrict density.

    These homes were not built to be hotels. Although, the person who owned 10131 Lomond Drive was successful in making that house a hotel. It has 9 bedrooms and 5 baths.

    How would you like a hotel next to you?

  3. Advocator said on 11 Dec 2009 at 2:16 pm:
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    “This comes not a moment too soon.”

    You’re not prone to understatements, Greg, but that’s the epitome of one.

    It comes about 4 years and several hundred million dollars in depressed property values too late. Why did it take so long? [a rhetorical question] Because neither political party wanted to do anything about this problem. The Democrats want undereducated, illiterate voters, and the Republicans want a permanent underclass of cheap slave labor. Neither party really cares that it’s those of us who would like to live by the rules and pay our fair share of taxes that suffers. We suffer from the degradation of our neighborhoods, the degeneration of our schools, the over use of our social infrastructure by those who do not contribute to its maintenance, and we are preyed upon by the criminality of another under class.

    Any change to this paradigm is going to be gut-wrenching. The side willing to risk the most guts is the side that will win. The illegal immigrants have nothing to lose by risking it all. Those who want them here for their cheap labor and votes have a lot to lose. That’s where the pressure point, or, in Clausewitzean terms, the Center of Gravity, is. Attack it and we win. Dissipate our resources on chasing down individual Jose’s and Arosemina’s and we lose.

  4. ... said on 11 Dec 2009 at 5:36 pm:
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    The City of Fredericksburg has an ordinance dating back decades which limits the number of people that may live in a house. Someone should check this out and see how they do it. Mary Washingon college students complain about it all the time.

  5. ... said on 11 Dec 2009 at 6:08 pm:
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    According to the City of Fredericksburg:

    Q. How many people can live in a home?

    A. The zoning office uses the zoning ordinance definition of a family to determine occupancy of a dwelling unit. According to the City Code, Chapter 78-1, Definitions, a family means “one person or two or more persons related by blood, adoption or marriage, living and cooking together as a single housekeeping unit, with no more than two boarders, or a group of not more than three unrelated persons living together as a single housekeeping unit.”

  6. chuck said on 11 Dec 2009 at 6:26 pm:
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    like I want a house with 9 bedrooms with loads of hispanic men crammed in there like gerbils. whomever thinks that’s safe is just plain stupid.

  7. anon said on 11 Dec 2009 at 8:50 pm:
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    The reason the city of Fredericksburg can do it to college students is because they’re not all related to each other the way hispanic people are. ;)

  8. ... said on 11 Dec 2009 at 9:16 pm:
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    They also don’t have “College Students Without Borders” taking up their cause.

  9. Anonymous said on 12 Dec 2009 at 11:55 am:
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    anon said on 11 Dec 2009 at 8:50 pm: Flag comment

    The reason the city of Fredericksburg can do it to college students is because they’re not all related to each other the way hispanic people are.

    The allmighty dollar is the only relationship they have when they are crowded into nothing more than a chicken coop.

  10. Anonymous said on 12 Dec 2009 at 8:37 pm:
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    Patty, it is only legal because no one has taken them to court yet. I can assure I have done this long enough to know as soon as some one takes them to court it will come crashing down. Virginia law is very specific and clear and what they are doing is in violation of VA law. Remember the Manassas defintion of single family? As soon as the money grubbing lawyers from DC came in what happened. Don’t get me wrong, I support any way to limit overcrowding, but this is not legal under A law.

  11. Kevin C said on 13 Dec 2009 at 9:08 am:
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    anon said, “The reason the city of Fredericksburg can do it to college students is because they’re not all related to each other the way hispanic people are.”

    Now THAT’S funny !!!!!

  12. Johnson said on 13 Dec 2009 at 9:37 am:
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    Overcrowding and quality of life are the issues. Whether or not people are related to one another is a moot point. A body is a body. I could see it in extreme circumstances, such as when a married couple has a lot of kids.

  13. Anonymous said on 13 Dec 2009 at 1:15 pm:
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    Johnson, actually people being related or not is an issue. There was a study done indicating/linking higher crime rates in homes used as boarding homes than in homes strictly used as a single family home. If you think about it, it makes sense. Who would you get mad at more for eating your food or saying the wrong thing, a renter or a family member?

  14. iwantjustice said on 26 Apr 2010 at 2:48 pm:
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    How can I report over crowding. I’m fairly new to Manassas, and in Central PA there was never an issue, my neighbors have probablly 15 people living in their end unit townhouse and basement of the townhouse. They don’t maintain anything and the men are illegal, undocumented. Any help is appreciated.

  15. Greg L said on 26 Apr 2010 at 3:07 pm:
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    1. Report the problem to zoning. They should investigate and resolve it.
    2. If they do not, contact a City Councilman. Marc Aveni has been terrific at helping on this issue.
    3. If neither of those steps work, reach out to Help Save Manassas. They can help.

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