A new Virginia law will make it easier for localities to prosecute the renters behind illegal boarding houses.
Gov. Bob McDonnell signed the bill, SB 894, into law in March, giving local officials the power to issue summons and fines directly to renters, leasers or subleasers for zoning violations. Sen. Chap Petersen introduced the bill.
"Unfortunately illegal boarding houses have become a problem in Virginia,” Petersen said in a statement. “What this law means is that if you have an illegal boarding house in your community, law enforcement can go directly to the person living in that home and breaking the law."
In Virginia, no more than four unrelated people are legally allowed to live in a single-family home.
But last year NBC Washington’s I-Team uncovered a growing problem with boarding houses in Fairfax County. In one instance, nine people were living under the same roof.
NBC’s reporters discovered a man was renting a house and then going behind his landlord’s back, leasing the rooms out to seven more people.
In that case — before the new law was in effect — officials could only prosecute the landlord, who hadn’t known anything was wrong, Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) told Patch.
Once violations were brought to a landlord’s attention,he or she could evict the tenant, but the process could be slow, Herrity said.
“Our laws were set up to only go after the landowner,” Herrity told Patch. “We couldn’t get to the bad guy.”
Herrity said Petersen’s bill fixes the problem. Now, summons and fines can be delivered directly to the renter of a property, an efficiency officials hope will allow to crack down on illegal boarding houses that can harm neighborhoods.
Although there is no way for the county to know how many illegal boarding houses may exist, county representatives said the Department of Code Compliance received 877 complaints of overcrowding in 2012. Herrity said there are currently 15 cases under investigation in Springfield.
The new law will take effect July 1.