CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — Two weeks after a fire destroyed a Chesterfield rental home, neighbors are pointing the finger at a so-called ‘slumlord’ that has repeatedly violated county codes.
The fire happened at a home along Pinetta Drive around 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve. At the scene, 8News captured heavy smoke shooting from the front windows. After a days-long investigation, the Chesterfield fire department confirmed the fire was accidental in nature and caused by a space heater.
However, the use of a space heater raised red flags for neighbors like Johnathan Harris, who claimed the home did not have working heat or air conditioning. Tenants confirmed this with 8News.
“There hasn’t been heat in that house in probably ten years,” Harris, who also serves as the president of the Brighton Green Community Association, said. “I know from the residents and seeing them use AC units over the years.”
Harris, who’s lived in the neighborhood for 15 years, said heat, along with septic tank problems and rodents, were just a few issues. He also raised concerns about the number of adults living in the home, and how quickly tenants rotated.
“The type of individuals and the nature of the boarding house situation he was running there. People were living there week to week and coming in and out,” he said, adding that tenants would rent out closets to live in.
According to officials at the scene of the fire, at least six adults were living in the single-family home as of Christmas Eve, which is in violation of county code.
In a statement to 8News, Chesterfield County wrote: “The county has had involvement with 533 Pinetta Drive and its owner in the past, including issuing notices of violation in 2014 and 2017 for exceeding the allowable limit of four unrelated occupants in a single-family dwelling unit, matters that were brought into compliance.”
Records obtained by 8News revealed the home was investigated seven times since 2014, with each investigation being the result of a zoning code compliance.
“We take very seriously the enforcement of the county’s zoning ordinance as a means of keeping occupants safe while also minimizing the impact on neighborhoods. Unfortunately, enforcement in such cases can be exceedingly difficult. Understandably, it’s not always in tenants’ self-interest to provide us information that may lead to them being evicted by their landlords,” the County wrote.
According to documents, the landlord in question is Vladimir Tarabay, a former bondsman in Henrico with a criminal record.
8News spoke to Tarabay by phone on Monday. However, he had no comment on the neighbors’ complaints and said he could not confirm how many people were living on his property.
Harris is now urging the county to address the issues.
“Once these houses go down, it affects all our value,” he said.