D.C. building inspectors yesterday shut down six rental properties near the rowhouse where a Georgetown University senior died in a weekend fire, saying conditions were too unsafe for 33 students to continue living there.
City officials said they sent 25 inspectors to the neighborhood near the university and cited various property owners for 150 housing code violations, ranging from insufficient smoke detectors to faulty ventilation and electrical problems.
Inspectors tried to assess the conditions of 87 properties, but they were able to get permission to enter only 30 houses, officials said. In some cases, no one was home; in others, occupants turned inspectors away.
"Unfortunately, it took an incident like this for people to say, 'Come on in and inspect my housing conditions,' " said David A. Clark, director of the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. "There were a couple of places where the landlord was there this morning and was very cooperative."
Clark said the inspections had been planned but were accelerated after Sunday's death of Daniel Rigby, a 21-year-old business major. Rigby was living in the basement of a rowhouse at 3318 Prospect St. NW, where the fire started. Fire officials blamed faulty wiring leading to a furnace in the basement. They said the house met city codes and had working smoke alarms.
Five of the apartments city officials shut down yesterday were in the 3300 and 3400 blocks of Prospect Street.
An apartment at 3301 Prospect St. needed more smoke detectors and had too much debris in the basement, an inspector found. Six students lived there.
The ceiling in the basement apartment at 3314 Prospect did not meet the mandatory height requirement of 6 feet 9 inches, and there was only one exit, officials said. The basement window had a double set of security bars with an outside lock, visible to passersby. The student who lived in the basement unit moved to a hotel after inspectors noted the problems.
A basement unit at 3332 Prospect, shared by three students, needed safer exits, officials said. Another apartment, at 3401 Prospect, did not have enough smoke detectors. Thirteen students lived there.
A unit at 3405 Prospect, home to three students, was cited after fumes were detected. Fire officials were checking the carbon monoxide levels there, Clark said.
Inspectors found that electrical work had been improperly performed without city permits in an apartment at 1320 35th St. NW. Seven students were asked to leave that building, officials said.
Some students expressed surprise at the inspections' results.
Chris Burling, a 21-year-old senior who is a Chinese major, said that this is the second year he has shared a rowhouse at 3301 Prospect St. There are at least five smoke detectors in the three-story house, he said: two on the second floor, including one in a bedroom; two on the third floor; and one in the living room. Inspectors wanted more.
"They said we need one smoke alarm in every bedroom," said Burling, who is from outside Philadelphia. "It just sounded like, 'Hey, get a smoke alarm.' My mom was always worried about me living in this house."
Burling was taken aback when he returned from class yesterday afternoon and a roommate told him that they might have to move.
Georgie Thomas, 21, a senior finance major, said he would consider purchasing the smoke detectors for the apartment.
"It's just a little crazy," said Thomas, whose family lives in Rockville. "I have two to three midterms tomorrow. If they expect us to move out. . . . It's tough."
Sean Gray, another roommate, said that students had been told by the Student Housing Association, a private company that manages some of the rental property, not to let the inspectors inside the house.
Gray said that the Student Housing Association falsely informed student tenants that they would be responsible for any violations that the city inspectors found. The owners are responsible for making repairs. Joel Mack, property manager for the Student Housing Association, did not return calls to his office.
"This sort of woke us up," said Gray, 21, a government and psychology major from Boston.
Gray acknowledged that there was some irony in yesterday's developments: "The day we do let the inspectors in is the day that we get kicked out."
City officials are not trying to inconvenience students but want to ensure that their living conditions are safe, Clark said. That means that the students should be aware of their rights as tenants and that landlords should understand that they must comply with the law.
Clark said that many landlords rent basement apartments without obtaining the necessary licenses. Before a license is granted, city officials must inspect the property.
Inspectors last night began posting notices for students at the affected buildings to leave. If Georgetown University cannot provide temporary housing for the displaced students, the city will help, Clark said.
"We cannot allow them to stay in an uninhabitable, unsafe environment," Clark said.
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.