Monday, March 14, 2022

Written by: Guy Jeffress

In a January 2022 unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeals of Virginia upheld the immediate revocation of a certificate of occupancy for a hospitality venue located in Fairfax County, effectively closing the business. The revocation was based in part on a single notice of violation issued by Fairfax County almost nine years prior in 2013.

In June 2012 the operator of the establishment obtained a non-residential use permit to open a restaurant located in Fairfax County. In March 2013, the Fairfax County Department of Code Enforcement cited the operator for violating the Uniform Statewide Building Code by constructing unpermitted additions. In May 2013, because the violations remained unresolved, the Department issued a notice of violation and two criminal summonses to the operator. The summonses were subsequently resolved by order of nolle prosequi (a dismissal without prejudice) to allow operator time to submit a “minor site plan,” which was necessary for obtaining the required permits. The operator initially attempted to obtain the minor site plan but ultimately abandoned the effort.

Between April 2014 and October 2019, no inspections were made on the property. However, in October 2019, the county received a complaint about a new structure on the property. A county official researched various records pertaining to, and visually examined the property. The official observed various violations, including a newly constructed enclosure with a deck, bar, new plumbing and electrical fixtures, and gas fired heaters. The official determined that all of the alterations and additions were completed without appropriate permits.

In early November 2019 the official, accompanied by the fire marshal, returned to the property during business hours. They observed over one hundred people on the premises, which had a certificate of occupancy for a maximum of forty-nine. Shortly thereafter, the Building Official issued a revocation notice for appellant’s certificate of occupancy, effectively closing the business. The revocation notice identified various code violations dating back to the original 2013 notice/citation, and listed safety hazards created by the conditions on the property specified the corrective actions required, and contained information concerning appellant’s right to appeal. The operator appealed the revocation to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development State Building Code Technical Review Board (“TRB”). The TRB upheld the county’s finding and the operator appealed to the county circuit court which affirmed the TRB ruling.

The operator then appealed to the Court of Appeals of Virginia arguing that the revocation of the certificate of occupancy was improper on a number of grounds including (i) that there was no evidence of repeated violations since the only notice of violation was issued in 2013; (ii) the TRB was required to issue a corrective work order and a notice of violation before revoking the certificate of occupancy; (iii) and operator should have been given a reasonable time for compliance before the revocation.

The Court of Appeals dispatched these arguments and affirmed the decision of the circuit court finding that: (i) no applicable law required the county official to provide a notice of violation before revoking a certificate of occupancy, and repeated violations were implied by the improvements to the property constructed between 2013 and 2019, all without the required permits; (ii) nothing in the building code required a notice of violation or a corrective work order before revoking the certificate of occupancy; and (iii) enforcement of the building code is a legitimate use of state power necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens.

Ignoring or shrugging off a single zoning or building code violation, even one made years prior, could jeopardize your business. Don’t wait until it’s too late, call one of the attorneys at Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian, P.C., or email and let us see if we can assist you.

This blog post is not intended to provide legal advice or substitute for the advice of legal counsel with respect to specific facts and situations. See disclaimer