Tisha Thompson and Rick Yarborough
The I-Team's Tisha Thompson investigates illegal boarding homes.
Virginia lawmakers are reacting to a NEWS4 I-Team exclusive into the world of illegal boarding homes.
Our NEWS4 I-Team hidden cameras showed you how it’s a problem in our area.
Now, the I-Team’s Tisha Thompson shows you why a loophole in the law lets people get away with it over and over again.
Fairfax County officials say you should think twice about renting to Tom Salvato.
Rockley Miller rented his home to Salvato in 2010. “When you have a rogue tenant inside, the landlord has very little control over what that person is doing,” Miller says.
When Miller evicted Salvato for almost $14,000 in back rent, Miller discovered Salvato was subleasing rooms.
“They were filling every room they could,” says Alex Vander Woude, one of the subtenants.
Vander Woude says he didn’t know Salvato had already been evicted when he signed his lease.
"We slept in the living room and they put up plywood,” Vander Woude explained. “They took this kind of bike lock thing and bolted it to the front side."
Fairfax County says it is illegal for four or more unrelated people to live together.
The NEWS4 I-Team found court records showing Salvato has been evicted at least three times in Fairfax County.
Our NEWS4 hidden cameras caught Salvato and his partner Amy Meinbresse trying to lease a room to our producer.
Producer: “How many people live here?”
Meinbresse: “Maybe eight.”
Producer: “It’s a big house, huge.”
Meinbresse: “We make certain rooms into bedrooms.”
Tisha Thompson: “We've been getting complaints that you guys are running an illegal boarding house."
Tom Salvato: "That's ridiculous."
Salvato says he’s not breaking the law.
Tisha Thompson: "The County says you do this over and over again."
Tom Salvato: "I don't care what the County says. Whatever mistakes I made on the last house, that was an accident."
Tisha Thompson: "But these homeowners say you don't pay. They're trying to get whatever...
Tom Salvato: "That's ludicrous. I pay on time every time."
Not true, says Salvato's current landlords Patrick Cooper and Loan Phuong.
“They’re being evicted,” says Cooper.
Cooper says Salvato owes them more than $6,000 and pulls stunts like the one we caught on camera when we came to interview the Coopers.
Phuong starts to yell, “Hey Tom! You’re a liar!”
Salvato had shown up to pay what he says was $1,500 in cash for back rent.
But when Phuong opens the envelope, she pulls out a pile of toilet paper.
Tisha Thompson: “So you just tricked her?"
Loan Phuong: "Yea! Tricked! Yea!"
Tom Salvato: "How else was I going to get a receipt for cash?"
“The thing that burns me up is that we can’t get the guy who’s the bad actor and really make him pay the price,” says Fairfax County Board Supervisor Pat Herrity.
Herrity says he's frustrated by a loophole in Virginia law that only allows the government to go after the homeowner. The county has sent violation notices and court warnings to both Miller and the Coopers.
The worst thing that can happen to Salvato?
“We can adjust the law,” says Sen. Chap Petersen (D - Fairfax), who says he’s thinking about writing a bill to prevent people like Salvato from hitting up new victims.
"Anytime you have a repeat violator,” Petersen says, “that's when you lock people up or come up with a tougher penalty."
Everyone we talked to says if you’re a landlord, you have to do more than a credit check. Look at the court records and check for previous evictions.
And if you’re a renter, be suspicious of anyone leasing multiple rooms inside a private home.
If in doubt, walk away.
In Springfield, Tisha Thompson, NEWS4 I-Team.