The Virginia Maintenance Code requires appellant landlords to install a heating system in their rental property, and their failure to do so rendered the property unfit for habitation.
The circuit court’s determination that the State Building Code Technical Review Board correctly interpreted the VMC to require appellants to furnish a heating system is affirmed.
A city code official issued a violation notice after determining the “heating facility” in appellants’ rental property was defective. Two weeks later, the city issued a second notice and declared the property “unfit for human habitation for the lack of a functioning heating system.” Sometime between the first and second notice, appellants’ tenants moved out.
Appellants applied for a permit to install a gas space heater. The installation was inspected but not approved because the unvented heater was the property’s only heat source. Appellants removed the heater. Appellants administratively challenged the violation notices, which were upheld by the local appeals board, the technical review board and the circuit court.
On appeal, appellants argue the review board incorrectly interpreted the VMC. They assert the board’s regulations are inconsistent with the code and do not apply to their property. Appellants claim that the VMC, properly interpreted, does not require them to provide heat to their tenants.
The purpose of the Uniform Statewide Building Code is to formulate regulations for buildings and structures “and the equipment therein. … Under the USBC, ‘equipment’ includes heating equipment.” The VMC, which is part of the USBC, requires that buildings, structure and the associated equipment” must be kept in good repair. A structure is “unit for human habitation” if it contains unsafe equipment, which includes heating equipment.
Appellants first argue there was no violation because the property was unoccupied at the time. But the VMC applies to both occupied and unoccupied structures.
Moreover, the regulations state that mechanical equipment that is required or provided, including “appliances, fireplaces, solid fuel-burning appliances, cooking appliances, chimneys, vents, and water heating appliances[,]” must be kept in safe working condition.
“Upon a review of these provisions, the Review Board concluded that the lack of a heating system in the property violated Sections 603.1 and 605.1 ‘and that the installation of a heating system is required.’ The Review Board also found that ‘the violations cannot be satisfied by the removal of the existing heating system and that a heating system is required to be in place according to the VMC.’
“The Review Board’s findings and conclusions are in keeping with the ‘experience and specialized competence of the agency,’ and they are in accord with the basic law under which the agency has acted. …
“The Review Board could fairly conclude that the VMC required the Gaineses to maintain an operable heating facility in their rental property because, without the ability to provide adequate heat to the building’s residents, the property meets the definition of ‘unfit for human occupancy,’ that Sections 603.1 and 605.1 require electrical equipment be maintained in working condition, and that other provisions of the VMC make clear that the regulations apply to vacant structures.
“We are, thus, bound by the Review Board’s decision. In other words, because the Review Board’s findings are not arbitrary and capricious, and because the VMC by its plain wording supports the Review Board’s conclusions, we may not disturb its decision on appeal.”
Gaines, et al. v. Dep’t of Housing & Community Development State Building Code Technical Review Board, et al. Record No. 1090-19-1, Jan. 7, 2020. CAV (Humphreys) from Virginia Beach Cir. Ct. (Lewis). Makiba Gaines for appellant, Elizabeth B. Meyers for appellee. VLW 020-7-002, 11 pp. Published.