|An illegal car sale in Mason District.|
If your neighborhood is cluttered with junk vehicles or commercial trucks, Fairfax County police officers explained what they can do about it at a Jan. 26 meeting convened by Mason Supervisor Penny Gross for the heads of civic and homeowner associations.
It could take a long time before an inoperable vehicle is removed after a complaint has been filed, said Master Police Officer Joe Moore, who serves as the county’s impoundment officer.
When he gets a complaint about an inoperable vehicle, Moore sends the owner a “courtesy letter” asking for voluntary compliance within 30 days. He then returns to the vehicle and gives the owner an official notice stating the penalties if the car is not removed within 10 days. When an inoperable vehicle is towed, the fine ($300 or more) is imposed on the property owner, while the car’s owner is billed for storage.
A car, trailer, or semi-trailer is considered inoperable if it can’t be driven or does not display valid license plates or inspection decal. To remove a car, the burden of proof is up to Moore to show that it doesn’t run. That’s easy if it’s on blocks or missing a wheel. But if the owner refuses to drive it, Moore said he has to walk away.
|Left to Right: Capt. Gun Lee, Capt. Jim Baumstark, officer Matt Chappell, and officer Cecil Starkey.|
Moore is only permitted to enter someone’s private property on the same path as a mailman. If the front door is covered by overgrown bushes, he can go to the side door. A neighbor can give permission for Moore to look at a house next door but he can’t go on the second floor and look down—and he isn’t even allowed to lift a car cover.
Moore said he works with people in hardship situations. For example, if an elderly widow doesn’t drive and doesn’t know what to do with her husband’s car, he helps her donate it to a charity. In other cases, he’s dealt with “frequent flyers” who appeal to the county executive. Once negotiations start, the car can’t be removed until the process is completed, which could take months. In other cases, the owner of the car is being investigated by the police for something like gambling, drug dealing, or money laundering so the detectives ask Moore to back off until they build their case.
Illegal car sales
Other problems Moore runs into are “spillover” cars from the Culmore apartments in Bailey’s Crossroads parked in adjacent neighborhoods, tax evaders, and people who always have a yard full of cars because they buy them at auctions and sell them at a profit. Those types of car sales have occurred on Durbin Place in Glen Forest and on Braddock Road.
You’re only allowed to sell five cars a year, but some people sell as many as four or five a week, often putting them in other people’s names. Moore once came across a car registered to a 97-year-old woman who never drove.
In Virginia you have to prove legal residence to get a driver’s license, but you don’t in Maryland, so he’s found lots of cars parked in Culmore with Maryland tags. “We’re losing a lot of revenue in Virginia,” he notes. He said the police are working on using tag readers that save the date, time, and GPS location so they will be able to create a database and crack down on these people. If it can be proved that a vehicle has been parked in Virginia for 45 days, they can require the owner to get Virginia tags.
Matt Chappell, parking enforcement officer for the Mason District Police Station, said he cites violators when there is a safety issue, like if someone parks closer than 15 feet from a fire hydrant. The law prohibits parking within 10 feet of a driveway, but Chappell only writes a ticket for that if someone calls to complain. “I don’t want to cite someone who is part of the family,” he said. Instead, he usually puts a sticker on the car warning the owner it will be towed if it’s not moved within 10 days.
A lot of what the police do in these types of situations depends on the discretion of the officer, added traffic enforcement officer Cecil Starkey, who covers vehicle issues for the whole county.
Starkey told the audience they can call in a complaint if people park commercial trucks in residential areas. Vehicles are banned in residential areas if they are more than eight feet high or 21 feet long. Whether there is lettering on or not is irrelevant, he said.
Regarding the commercial vehicles parked on Daniels Avenue and other streets in central Annandale, Moore said, a check of the registration records show they belong to people who live in Annandale. He said the owners can be cited if the trucks are parked on the residential part of Daniels, but not if they are on commercial streets.
A resident of the Glen Forest community complained about people from the Culmore apartments parking on their streets. Gross responded that anyone can park on any state road in Virginia, as long as the car is legally registered. Homeowner associations that own their roads, however, can restrict parking to residents and their guests.
Starkey called taxi cabs parked in neighborhoods “a nightmare.” He often finds cabs registered in Maryland or D.C. parked in Virginia. “If it’s in your driveway, and it’s your personal vehicle, we can’t touch it,” he said.
If you call in a complaint, you don’t have to give your name, Starkey said. Gross said her staff doesn’t keep a message log because they would have to turn over those records if someone files a Freedom of Information Act request.
Parking on the wrong side of the street has become an “epidemic,” Gross said. If you park on the wrong side of a street with a yellow line, it’s definitely a violation, Starkey said. The law requires people to park so the right-side wheels are facing the curb, but on streets without a yellow line, he said, “it’s up to the officer’s discretion whether to write a ticket or not.” He urged people to talk to their neighbors first, before filing a police report.
Starkey indicated there’s not much you can do about “predatory towing” by apartment and condo managers. They have agreements with private towing companies and impoundment lots and often charge large fees to visitors who park there without permits. According to Starkey, housing developments only need one sign at the entrance of the lot warning people not to park without a permit.
The only crime that has risen last year in the Mason Police District is burglary, the station’s commander, Capt. Gun Lee told the group. The overall crime rate is down 8 percent from 2011 to 2012.
Recently, Lee said, there have been some arrests for daytime burglaries in the Mantua community in western Annandale. The thefts have been carried out by an organized group looking for purses, cash, jewelry, and other small items that could be pawned for money to buy drugs. In the past few weeks, there has been a rise in thefts from cars
Burglaries are also on the rise in the Franconia Police District, said the commander, Capt. Jim Baumstark, commander of the Franconia Police District. He had a recent case involving guns stolen from a house, noting that prices of guns are rising with the threat of possible gun control legislation.
Crime prevention takes a partnership with the community, and when Neighborhood Watch members report a suspicious event, “it makes a huge difference,” said Lee. “We can’t do it without your support.”
Gross urged people to go to the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) meetings, which provide information about crime and police activities to local residents. “You will learn a lot about what is going on in your neighborhoods,” she said.
The Mason Police District CAC meets at the Mason Government Center on the first Tuesday of the month at 7:30. Most of the Annandale/Mason area is in the Mason Police District, but parts are in the Franconia or West Springfield police districts.