City inspectors closed a Foggy Bottom house rented by current and former George Washington University students yesterday, expanding their search for safety code violations in off-campus housing to a second university.
The D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs stepped up inspections of student housing after a 21-year-old Georgetown University student died last week in a fire caused by faulty wiring in his rowhouse basement apartment. Metal bars had been welded to windows, and the exit doors were blocked. City officials reached out to college students throughout the city last week, offering to send teams of inspectors.
So far, the city has inspected 56 units of off-campus housing, including 30 prompted by requests from Georgetown students. A request from Michael D. Wascom, a neighbor, led to the inspection of the Foggy Bottom building at 1016 22nd St. NW. It was the first such request after the fire that inspectors had received about off-campus housing for George Washington students, said agency spokeswoman Gwen Davis. Inspectors found insufficient smoke detectors and emergency exits, and the renters, six current and two former students, were given two hours to relocate.
Wascom requested an inspection in a letter to David A. Clark, the city's regulatory agency director. Problems in the house "warrant your immediate attention," Wascom wrote. "Likewise, there are other properties in our neighborhood that are likely candidates for further inspection."
A George Washington spokeswoman said the school offered to house the students on campus. Tracy Schario, the university's director of media relations, also said the university has been aware of community concerns about noise, trash and building upkeep problems.
"The neighbors, the university had all encouraged DCRA to inspect this house," Schario said. "We really don't have jurisdiction over that. We can't force a student to have their house inspected."
Although the city has closed only one building near George Washington, 44 students have been forced to relocate following city building inspections near Georgetown University. Nine of those properties have been closed.
Laura Cavender, a spokeswoman for Georgetown University, said 21 students were allowed to return to their apartments Monday. Ten are staying with friends on and off campus, six found new housing and seven accepted free housing in dorm rooms, she said.
Inspectors continued to examine rowhouses near Georgetown University yesterday, in response to student requests. A university official said one student who lived in a basement unit on W Street NW was displaced following an inspection. City officials did not close the student's apartment, but he was advised not to continue sleeping near the gas meter because of fumes. The student planned to move upstairs with his housemates, Davis said.
Several George Washington students forced to leave their apartment yesterday said they were surprised when inspectors knocked on their door for a second time in two days, but they welcomed them. Joshua Hersch, 21, said that the inspectors initially told him that the problems were minor and would not require him to relocate.
"I specifically asked: 'Can you please let me know what the problems are?' If there was anything serious?" Hersch said. "We're willing to comply. . . . After the fire in Georgetown, we're obviously willing to do what is necessary."
Richard Oberman, 21, who has lived in the apartment for three years, said that the landlord was informed of the initial visit and said he would have the problems fixed on Friday. When Oberman opened the door yesterday, he said inspectors had posted "Danger" signs on the door and window.
Four tenants lived in the building's downstairs apartment, which had only one exit and metal bars on the windows.
"The only problem with us is the back door is in a really small room, and they said the bed is blocking the door," said student Mike Simpson. "You can open the door and get out, but you can't open it 90 degrees."
Oberman said the city might be getting pressure from residents who might not want students as neighbors.
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.