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Violations Found at Site of D.C. Fire

Inspections Uncover More Flaws in Off-Campus GU Housing

By Yolanda Woodlee and Manny Fernandez
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 21, 2004; Page B01

The basement apartment where a 21-year-old Georgetown University student died during a weekend fire had metal bars welded to the window frames and was padlocked, according to a D.C. fire department spokesman who revealed numerous other violations.

Fire inspectors also found that the rowhouse at 3318 Prospect St. NW did not have the required smoke detectors, and that exit doors were blocked, according to the inspection report.


Mike Boswell, a junior at Georgetown, reads a sign ordering his building closed because of fire code violations. (Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)

_____From The Post_____
6 Georgetown Rental Homes Shut Down (The Washington Post, Oct 20, 2004)
Fire Inspections Follow Death of GU Student (The Washington Post, Oct 19, 2004)
GU Student Found Dead In House Fire (The Washington Post, Oct 18, 2004)

City building inspectors, meanwhile, continued to inspect off-campus housing near Georgetown University, where Daniel Rigby was a student. One apartment was ordered vacated yesterday for fire code violations, displacing five more residents and bringing to 38 the number of students who have been affected.

The problems at 3318 Prospect St. contradict a preliminary assessment by the fire department, which on Sunday and Monday reported that there were no code violations.

"When I first spoke to the fire investigator, he said there was no fire code violations that he could see," fire department spokesman Alan Etter said. "But after a more comprehensive examination by city fire inspectors . . . it was determined that several fire code violations existed."

David A. Clark, director of the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, said the city has a team of five inspectors examining off-campus housing near Georgetown University.

Clark said city and university officials met with students late Tuesday to explain their rights as tenants and to advise them to request building inspections if they think that their apartments might be unsafe. After the meeting, he said, there were about a half dozen requests for building inspectors to visit apartments.

The owner of the house where Rigby lived has an address in Florida, according to city records, and efforts to reach her have been unsuccessful. Other students who have been displaced live in houses managed by the Student Housing Association, a company that students said has posted signs inside buildings telling them that they do not have to allow inspectors inside. An administrative assistant at the association office on Wisconsin Avenue NW said no one would comment at this time.

"Georgetown University is not affiliated with SHA in any way, and we're disappointed with the dangerous tactics they've used in encouraging students not to make their properties available for safety inspections," university spokeswoman Laura Cavender said.

Clark said building inspectors cannot enter a private residence unless the residents allow them in. Then, if a violation is found, the owner is given a warning and time to correct the problem, he said.

The focus of inspectors is off-campus student housing on or near Prospect Street, from the 3200 block to the 3400 block. Officials have identified 87 properties along that stretch, though they caution that not all are inhabited by students.

Along the 3300 block of Prospect Street yesterday afternoon, students were busy moving out of the two-story brick rowhouse that inspectors had ordered vacated yesterday for code violations. The rowhouse is just two doors down from the one where Rigby, described by the students as a close friend, died.

"We don't feel safe sleeping here," said Andrea Parker, 22, a Georgetown senior who lives in the rowhouse with several other women. "After this, the death of a friend, that's it. We haven't slept here since that night." Parker and her housemates said they were grateful to the university for putting them up in the Marriott hotel and supplying them with moving vehicles, movers, boxes and packing tape.

"He was one of my best friends," said Alison Maina, 21, a Georgetown senior who lives in the building. "I haven't even had time to grieve for him because I've been wrapped up in this process."

Some of the students from the building ordered vacated yesterday said inspectors had found several violations, including a basement furnace enclosed by walls and windows that were nailed shut. Their rent was $4,200 a month and had been paid through December, the students said.

Students said they pay rent to the housing association, which they said placed a sign inside their house that instructed them not to let in "city officials/inspectors." The sign read, in part: "You have exclusive control over the property and it is your right to tell them to go away. . . . These officials/inspectors cannot enter anyone's home without proper authority. So, if they visit the property and you did not call them, then DO NOT let them in the house."

Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company