D.C. building inspectors evicted 43 students from ten rental homes this week near the rowhouse where a Georgetown student died in a weekend fire.

The death of Daniel Rigby (MSB ’05) Sunday morning prompted the week of inspections, which began on Tuesday.

Georgetown residents and D.C. fire officials said that Rigby’s death in an electrical fire could have been prevented if the house at 3318 Prospect Street had met fire safety standards.

“There were locked bars over the basement windows and there was never an evacuation plan,” D.C. Fire Department spokesman Alan Etter said Wednesday. “Inspectors also noticed excessive accumulation of combustibles and exit doors were inaccessible from the egress side. We discovered that fire doors were obstructed or blocked and fire extinguishers were not charged.”

An area resident and friend of Rigby, Dave Barron, said he had previously been in Rigby’s basement and called it a “deathtrap” and an “accident waiting to happen.”

Friends of Rigby who spoke on the condition that they remain unnamed said that the owner of the home, Carolyn Channave, would not respond to repeated phone calls or e-mails and that she rarely visited the house. They also said the front door lock had been broken, forcing residents to padlock the door.

Channave did not answer phone calls placed to a Florida telephone number listed in her name. Metropolitan Police officials said they could not comment on whether criminal charges against Channave are being considered.

The D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and the D.C. Fire Department began inspections focusing on the 3200 through 3400 blocks of Prospect Street on Tuesday. The inspections also included houses on 35th Street.

Building inspectors posted eviction notices at six houses on Tuesday, one house on Wednesday and three basement apartments yesterday.

Officials cited unsafe sleeping areas, faulty wiring, illegal construction, lack of fire graded ceilings and walls and missing smoke detectors for the closures.

University spokeswoman Laura Cavender said that six of the displaced students were staying at the Marriott Conference Center in the Leavey Center, 14 were staying in residence halls on campus and 23 were staying with friends on or off campus.

“Anyone who needs help finding housing either on or off campus is getting it from the university and we are absolutely committed to making sure that money is not an issue for students who are being displaced from off-campus properties,” she said.

Chris Burling (COL ’05) was evicted from his home at 3301 Prospect Street after inspectors discovered the house had no hard-wired fire alarms.

“At first the inspectors told us that all we had to do was clear out our basement but they came back later and made us leave,” he said. “We are just waiting to be allowed back into the house.”

DCRA director David Clark said none of the 30 homes inspected Tuesday had a Basic Business License, which ensures that rental houses have been inspected and that landlords are up to date on their taxes, a requirement for landlords since this spring.

He also said officials had revoked two certificates of occupancy and were issuing over 150 notices of violation of housing and fire codes. More homes were inspected Wednesday and Thursday but it was not immediately clear how many additional violations had been found.

Clark said that the Student Housing Association was one of the primary culprits in the area’s dangerous housing situation. SHA is a private organization which owns area houses and leases them to students. It is not affiliated with the university.

On several SHA operated houses, an orange sign at the front door discouraged student tenants from allowing inspectors in the residence.

Saying that inspectors might try to “manipulate you,” the sign told tenants not to allow them into the house. It also called inspections “selective enforcement” and said that they constitute “discrimination against you and us.”

“The basic problem is they are trying to run counter to what needs to happen to ensure safe housing,” Clark said. “They do not always want to let inspectors in and some of their houses have violations.”

Company representatives did not return repeated phone inquiries at their Wisconsin Avenue offices and SHA property manager Joel ack did not return messages left Wednesday.

At one house on the 3300 block of Prospect Street, resident Brian Warner (MSB ’05) said he and his roommates had to spend more than $300 to buy fire alarms and a fire extinguisher Sunday after SHA had been unresponsive to their concerns.

“They do not do what they are supposed to do and they can be impossible to get in contact with over the phone or e-mail,” he said. “They only started to make halfhearted repairs after our parents got involved and told them to do something.”

At another SHA property on the 3600 block of R Street in Burleith, student tenants had not been provided with fire extinguishers and they were unsure if their smoke alarms worked. The students were concerned that a missing doorknob on the front door could make escape in an emergency difficult.

David Anderson (SFS ’05) said that he had tried to contact his landlords multiple times to resolve electrical complaints and had gotten little response. Hanging wires from the ceiling gave Anderson the impression that the house was “barely up to code,” he said.

Bill Starrels, a commissioner for Georgetown’s Advisory Neighborhood Council, said SHA’s housing practices had contributed to unsafe conditions in the area.

“As far as I am concerned I do not see how Joel Mack sleeps at night,” he said. “It is unconscionable how he has forced students into living in such substandard conditions.”

While many students have expressed concern about dangerous conditions and uncaring landlords, some said they have been lucky to have landlords who want to help them.

Although her R Street townhouse had originally been in disrepair, Allison Heller (COL ’05) said her landlord had quickly taken decisive action to make things right.

“I feel like she cares about us and made sure to address our concerns quickly,” Heller said.

Chuck VanSant, Georgetown’s director of Off-Campus Student Life, urged students Wednesday to look for “safe, clean housing.”

“Make sure you speak to the landlord and look around to make sure things are safe,” he said. “We can help you understand housing regulations and deal with landlords.”

VanSant said the university was working to ensure that all property owners on Georgetown’s off-campus housing Web site had Basic Business Licenses. He also said student tenants may have legal recourse if their houses were closed down due to code violations.

University officials said they will sponsor a meeting for off-campus students Monday afternoon in the Village C Alumni Lounge to discuss legal issues involved in living off campus.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.