DC

DC Expands Investigation Into Illegal Rooming Houses After Deadly Fire

What to Know

  • Over the weekend, police and inspectors entered a house on 14th Street NW using a search warrant
  • They found multiple code violations at nine separate rental units with multiple people living inside the house
  • This comes after a fire at another illegal rooming house in DC killed a 9-year-old boy and a 40-year-old man who were trapped inside

D.C. officials are expanding their investigation into illegal rooming houses after another property that inspectors knew about but failed to act on was discovered. This comes after a fire at an illegal rooming house killed a 9-year-old boy and a 40-year-old man who were trapped inside.

Officials have said the fatal Aug. 18 blaze at a house on Kennedy Street NW could have been avoided. Four employees with D.C. Fire and the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) are on leave pending investigations into why they failed to take action after they were told by police that people were living in unsafe conditions inside the house five months before the fire.

As part of that investigation, DCRA Director Ernest Chrappah has ordered 67 closed cases to be reopened. He said that number will likely grow.

"We started our scope initially with 67," Chrappah said. "Based off our findings and internal review, we will likely go deeper."

The Kennedy Street inspection was closed by a DCRA investigator who never went inside the house.

That same investigator closed the case on a house at 5310 14th St. NW. Over the weekend, police and inspectors entered the house with a search warrant and found multiple code violations at nine separate rental units with multiple people living inside, including a 71-year-old man who inspectors noted should be seen by the Department of Human Services because he might need help.

A report on the DCRA search called the house on 14th Street "junky and unkempt, with debris and personal belongings littering the floors and blocking doors in some cases."

The report said the house lacked enough fire extinguishers, the exit signs were detached, and some smoke detectors were not working. A spliced extension cord led into one room, and there was electricity but no gas, according to the report.

"As it stands, there are no dire conditions or emergencies that exist at this residence at this time. However, there are major violations the must be addressed," the report stated.

The report said the that owner of the home said he would cooperate with DCRA.

Chrappah said it's hard to estimate how many of these illegal and possibly dangerous rooming houses there are in the District. It can be hard to find them because often the people living in illegal rooming houses don't complain because they're afraid of losing a place to live, he said.

We are talking about people's homes ... we are also talking about respecting the Fourth Amendment," Chrappah said. "It becomes very challenging in the context of broader affordable housing."

Inspectors had to get a court-ordered search warrant to inspect the house on 14th Street, a tactic that could be used more often with this renewed focus on illegal housing.

The owner of the house on 14th Street declined to speak with News4.

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