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Monday, February 3, 2014

Mason District residents frustrated by lax property code enforcement

Vehicles and debris in a yard in Mason District.
Eighty-seven percent of more than 500 local residents who responded to a survey conducted by the Mason District Council of Community Associations (MDC) believe that unresolved zoning violations are having a negative impact on revitalization. Nearly half the respondents are so frustrated with the county’s failure to respond to complaints that they feel it’s a waste of time to report their concerns.

More results from the survey will be released at a public meeting hosted by MDC Feb. 6, 7:30 p.m., at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School. Several Fairfax County officials are scheduled to speak, including Code Compliance Director Jeff Blackford, code compliance supervisors Susan Epstein and Rachael Perrott,  Deputy County Executive Robert Stalzer, and JoAnne Fiebe, a program manager with the Office of Community Revitalization.

This house on Kimberly Drive, off Annandale Road, has been under construction since 2007.
The meeting will have a question-and-answer format with the goal of encouraging an open dialogue and an exchange of ideas between the public and panelists.

“Mason District residents’ frustration with code enforcement is palpable,” says MDC Chair Mollie Loeffler. “There are solutions. Other regional municipalities have program components that support community participation and provide multi-language materials and flex time so inspectors can work on weekends.” 

“We believe these programs and other creative approaches can bring citizens and the county together to tackle important quality-of-life issues here in Mason District and the rest of Fairfax County,” Loeffler says. “The council is actively urging the Department of Code Compliance (DCC) and elected officials to respond to citizen concerns and revise code enforcement procedures to dramatically improve outcomes.”

The survey asked respondents to describe their experiences trying to get the country to respond to complaints about code violations in their neighborhoods. Here’s a sample of their comments (with minimal grammatical corrections):
  • Zoning violations create a blight in our area which discourages positive development. Egregious overcrowding violations are rampant in our area and have caused serious problems—overcrowding of schools, increased traffic congestion, and overflow parking caused by too many vehicles, overflowing trash dumpsters, and probably more crime and gang activity. Unless the DCC vigorously enforces zoning codes, especially occupancy codes, our area will continue to decline.
  • Who is going to want to invest in neglected neighborhoods? Who is going to invest in a county that can’t enforce basic code provisions?
  • Many homes on Annandale Road have three unrelated families. I know this for a fact because I am a homebound teacher and I go into these homes. In Culmore, the one person who has the apartment takes advantage of new immigrants by charging large fees for half of a living room. The children sleep in the closets. The young girls are subjected to older men who come and go without any supervision. I had an eighth-grader who got pregnant from one of the transient renters.
  • I would have filed complaints for overcrowding/multi-occupancy, but after listening to a member of the DCC on how the process works, where there is no authority for a DCC member to enter a dwelling to determine how many people live there and that there were no resources available and/or requested from police who do have the authority to enter, I determined that it would be a complete waste of time to file a report.
  • I think the overcrowding at Bailey’s Elementary School is due in large part to overcrowding in the Culmore area. We have not had any significant new housing developments, yet we continue to experience growth in the schools that overwhelms the ability to provide adequate services. If the capacity limits were better enforced in the apartment complexes, perhaps we would not have the urgent need for another school to offset the crowding at Bailey’s.
  • I have never filed [complaints] because my neighbors have and nothing came of it. I witnessed big arguments with my neighbors and Penny Gross on opposite sides. Penny appears to allow the multiple family homes. I really think she feels responsible for the underprivileged families; however, she is just keeping them in their state of poverty by allowing more houses to fill up with low-income families around them. Then middle-class families feel the need to leave the county because the values of their homes goes down, and it spirals downward.
  • I filed a complaint about low-income unit in a condo development I used to live in. Eight people were living in a two-bedroom unit with five vehicles (the condo rules only allow two). I was told that an inspection would be done by the county but only after they give two weeks notice as to when the inspection would take place. Seriously?? So I’m sure you can guess how many people and vehicles were there when the inspection took place. As I am sure you can guess how many people and vehicles were there a few days after the inspection. Totally worthless and pointless.”
  • The residents of the house claimed to all be related, and therefore compliant given the ‘family’ definition. They did not let the inspectors inside the front door. However, after the lender foreclosed, a visit inside the house found individual rooms with doors and keyed locks, as if they were being rented as individual apartments. Family members do not behave this way.
  • The code officer came by, barely got out of vehicle, looked around, shrugged, then left. There is a commercial business in the house along with multiple non-family tenants, five to seven dogs, sofas in the backyard, construction debris, trash, streets packed with vehicles belonging to the work crews, commercial trucks idling at early hours in the street and driveway—the list goes on and on. It’s ridiculous.
  • At one property, numerous complaints were filed by at least 19 individuals over the condition of the property, rats, debris in the yard, and overgrowth of the yard. The county did nothing but tell the ones complaining there were extenuating circumstances.
  • When seven or eight cars are jammed into a driveway, spill over onto the street, and on occasion parked on lawns, the neighborhood looks bad. When garages are turned into rooms without permits and when cheap lawn furniture, children’s swing sets, and kitchen chairs are parked on the lawn, the neighborhood begins to look like a low-income slum. When one house looks bad, the others follow, and next thing you know it’s a mess.
  • In one instance, there has been only partial compliance with the request to tear down an illegal outbuilding and no follow up compliance check by the county. In another instance, a junkyard in the backyard of a private residence on Auburn Street has still not been cleaned up. Garbage is being disposed of inappropriately, and it is a breeding ground for rats. There are young children living next door and it is dangerous.
  • Our neighbor has left his home abandoned for more than a year. There is extensive water damage to the home and serious growth of mold. The exterior yard is unkempt and overgrown and has become a breeding ground for rodents and a haven for other wildlife.
  • The unwillingness of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors (BoS) to either pass or modify ordinances to more effectively address zoning issues is unfair to the DCC and residents. Code compliance begins with the BoS not the DCC. The DCC can only enforce those ordinances passed by the BoS.
The code compliance survey is a follow-up to a survey conducted by MDC in 2012-13, in which more than 600 Mason residents identified the following major concerns: the physical condition of businesses and roadways, speeding on neighborhood roads, illegal boarding houses, the quality of education, and traffic congestion.

The Mason District Council is a non-profit organization that serves as a support network and communication forum for civic associations, homeowner associations, and the public. Its member associations represent more than 4,000 households in Mason District.


  1. I am grateful we have someone like Mollie Loeffler to represent us. Bless her heart, she works non-stop on these nightmares.

    1. Yes, Mollie has more interest in Mason than most. That is what you call "Mason Matters."

    2. It only takes one to get others motivated. Thanks to the MDC and Mollie for organizing these events.

    3. "Mason Matters" is a big joke. No real information that really matters to the citizens about our district. We want to know what is being done to fight the issues that our affecteting our district.

    4. "Mason Matters" is where we get our "Penny's Worth"

    5. Mollie is doing more to educate Mason District than anyone else in Fairfax County.

  2. When DCC is told to ignore the laws on the books by the BOS our District and County are going to go down hill.

    I have a neighbor who has three families living in the house and lots random people at night living in the basement with no egress. The neighbors have complained and have been told they ae in compliance because everyone is related. Sometimes there are 30+ people living in a three bedroom house.

    Let me also add that in the City of Alexandria you would never get away with this many cars with Maryland license plate parked in their City. They ticket fast if you are there more than so many days.

  3. It looks like our County leadership has turned on us, selling us out to big development. I'm going to the Code Compliance meeting to see who is doing this to us and to ask them why.

  4. Molly only wants Penny's job. Read the zoning ordianance and see what the laws are before you comment.

    1. Three cheers for Mollie. It's time for Penny to go.

    2. Three cheers for Molly! She has my vote.

    3. She has my vote!

    4. 4:25, you are right, most of the people dont know the law and they think just because they dont like it it statement above about the Police having the right to enter your house because they can is wrong. Read the second Admendment. That law applies to everyone not just the few.

    5. Molly for Mason District BOS. Great Idea! We will have to encourage her to run.

    6. "Molly only wants Penny's job."
      Sounds like you think that's a bad thing. What's wrong with aspiring to higher office? Run Mollie, Run!

  5. @Anonymous 4:25 - You are kidding right? Are you serious? Penny does not do her job unless her job is to allow people to destroy our community and bring down our property values. So do you work for Penny? The zoning laws can be changed by our BOS. Our BOS chooses not to change them because some people may be upset. One of my favority Penny lines is "That is not my job".

  6. Really!

    The State of Virginia changed the welcoming sign into Virginia from "Virginia is for lovers" to a bland welcoming message. They should have changed it to "Virginia is for idiots, criminals and the unfortunate!"

    Look around, FFX County is in decline, because its ordinances and law enforcement are not in line with today's urban issues and their transportation and planning remedies are meek and non-transforming.

    First FFX needs to amend the laws so they apply to the present and then you need to enforce these laws.

    Then FFX needs to break out of the paradigm of stupid growth to smart growth and actually make it a place where people want to be and not where they just end up!

  7. 4th Admendment.

  8. The problem with local code enforcement is that they only act if you request enforcement THROUGH Penny's office.

    We had a house in my neighborhood that was very transient with people living in the garage and several rooms subdivided into non compliant rooms and it was quickly falling into disrepair. We kept calling for code enforcement to come and check on the house but they never did. We finally brought it up at a neighborhood association meeting just before a BOS election where Penny and her opponent were present and Penny had the gall to say that we HAD to go through her to get code enforcement to act.

    Good news was that they did show up the next week and inspect the house and find multiple violations. The bad news was that it had already driven down property values for a couple of neighbors who ended up selling below what their house would have been valued if code enforcement was responsive to actual taxpaying citizens of Fairfax Co.

    1. YOU ARE SO WRONG. You can put in a complaint with Dept. of Code Compliance and not have to go thru Pennys Office.

    2. You can call the county's code compliance number 703-324-1300 to report code violations and you can also file reports online at