By Jonathon Wigginton
Four Mary Washington students who live on Morningside Drive have had Jan. 29, 2009 marked on their calendar ever since their living situation was deemed illegal by the city of Fredericksburg.
The city forbids more than three unrelated people living in a singlefamily home, and neighbors and local officials said the students were in violation of the law.
According to Fredericksburg law, a family is defined as: “one person or two or more persons related by blood, adoption or marriage, living and cooking together…or a group of not more than three unrelated people.” The srudents’ living situation on Morningside does not fall into either of these definitions.
A district court judge continued the case at a hearing on Nov. 6.
The Morningside Drive student residents now have until the Jan. 29 hearing to decide which one of them is going to move out.
City officials say this is the first case of its kind that they’ve ever prosecuted.
Daniel McLaughlin, David Rodriguez, Samuel Shaefer and Tait Keenan, all seniors, have been living together in the rented Morningside house since August 2008. None would comment about their case.
Other students said they sympathized with the four.
“Talk about an awkward situation. I can’t imagine trying to decide which one of my roommates had to move out,” said one UMW student.
Fredericksburg Police Public Information Officer Natatia Bledsoe said that this all began on August 9, when police responded to a complaint by neighbors about a large party at the students’ Morningside home.
According to Bledsoe, officers broke up the party and returned the next morning to question the residents. At that time, police say Rodriguez, one of the residents, admitted that four people lived in the house.
Bledsoe said that neighbors had been complaining for some time about the students, and she said Fredericksburg police considered the residence a “party house and consistent nuisance to the neighborhood.”
Warren Carman, the students’ next-door neighbor, said the students’ house is definitely a party house.
Carman told the Free-Lance Star that mail delivery stopped at his house because overflow cars parked on the street around the house’s driveway blocked the mailman and his truck.
Carman said Morningside Drive is a quiet, residential street that simply cannot handle over 10 parked cars outside one house.
Zoning Officer Debra Ward inspected the house after the police visit. When she first approached the residents on Sept. 5, she reported that another of the residents, McLaughlin, told her that there were only three people living there, contradicting what Rodriguez had told police.
Ward said she found what looked like to be a house full of people: three furnished bedrooms and four couches throughout the house, two with sleeping bags.
Ward said the residents told her that the sleeping bags were for their dogs.
While Rodriguez’s comments to police in August are important, Ward said there are other ways to help prove illegal occupancy. She counts toothbrushes, observes the number of parked cars, and notes the amount of trash produced from a house.
She collected this information at at the house in question, and the results, she said, were convincing.
“In my professional opinion, there were more than three people living there,” she said.
According to Fredericksburg law, the punishment for this living situation is a fine up to $500.
One of the residents is required by law to move out.