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Tisha Thompson & Rick Yarborough
The News4 I-Team first exposed illegal boarding homes in northern Virginia. Now, a new law in the state allows the government to crack down on bad renters.
There's a new law in Virginia after the News4 I-Team exposed a secret hidden in Northern Virginia neighborhoods: illegal boarding homes.
"Hopefully we won't have to deal with this nightmare of trying to get people out of homes that repeatedly violate our zoning laws," said Fairfax County Board Supervisor Pat Herrity.
Last April, the I-Team sent its producer undercover into a Springfield house to rent a room from Amy Meinbresse and Tom Salvato. They were advertising the rental on Craigslist.
"How many people live here?" the producer asked.
"Uh, maybe eight," Meinbresse said.
"Eight?” the producer asked. “There's eight bedrooms?"
"Yeah," Meinbresse replied.
"It's a big house,” the producer said. “Huge."
"Well, we make certain rooms into bedrooms," Meinbresse said.
A hidden camera caught Amy explaining there would be plenty of housemates, even naming people who had rooms, during the tour.
“His name is Julian,” she said. “This guy is Maximillian. This guy is Drew. He's an engineer. This guy Kelly is in the Army. There's two guys downstairs. Russell's here. Michael is down below Kelly's room. There's another girl here, Trish."
With Salvato and Meinbresse, that made nine, a full house and against the law. In Virginia, it is illegal when more than four unrelated people live in the same home.
At the time, Salvato denied doing anything wrong. When News4 I-Team reporter Tisha Thompson explained, “We've been getting complaints that you guys are running an illegal boarding house," Salvato said, “That's ridiculous."
But Rockley Miller was one of several homeowners who told the I-Team he found himself in legal trouble because of what the couple did inside his home.
"When you've got a rogue tenant inside, the landlord has very little control over what that person is doing," said Miller. That’s because of a loophole in the law that only allowed the county to go after the landlord, not the renter.
After the I-Team investigation, State Sen. Chap Petersen introduced a bill allowing local governments to also prosecute renters. Repeat offenders can face jail times and thousands of dollars in fines. "What it means is that if you have a boarding house in your community, the county can go directly to the people that are living in the house, that are breaking the law," said Petersen.
Supervisor Herrity said the new law could help them crack down on an estimated 800 illegal boarding homes in Fairfax County. "The I-Team's report actually is one of the things that led to this bill, and it's one of the reasons we have this bill, and we're very, very thankful to the I-Team for bringing this to the attention of our residents," said Herrity.
The new law kicks in July 1.
Salvato and Meinbresse insisted they weren't doing anything wrong, claiming they were the only two adults living in the house. They were eventually evicted, and the courts found they owed former landlords thousands in unpaid rent.
To see the original Rogue Renters series, click here: