Monday, August 21, 2006

Can't anybody figure out how tall a house is?

    In our computerized age, it’s remarkable that something as simple as figuring out the height of a house can become a source of legal controversy.  In Fairfax County, Virginia, the zoning authorities have cracked down on mansions that are too tall under county rules.  Many homebuyers in the booming affluent suburb haven’t been able to move into their houses; those who already moved in are being allowed to stay.  Remarkably, builders have had a different understanding than the county on how to measure the height; according to this news story, the county measures to the midpoint of a roof, while many builders average the height of various roofs (and today’s mansions of course must have multiple roof features).  The lack of understanding was exacerbated by the fact that the county only conducts spot checks of houses and for years seemed less than vigilant in enforcing the height rule. 

   It’s extraordinary to me that simple rules such as the height rule aren’t explained by computerized diagrams for builders to understand, and that the builder is not required to submit a computerized image of the house as built, showing (at the builder’s expense) that the house meets the requirements.  But then, I’m just a lawyer …

  My favorite proposed solution to over-tall houses: One owner is planning to raise the grade of the land around his house in order to “decrease” its height!  The lawyer in tells me that something is wrong here …

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