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Fire code violations common

BY NICOLE KARLIS | FEBRUARY 23, 2010 7:30 AM

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The nine violations city officials doled out to an apartment that caught on fire last week between routine inspections are common at most rental properties, they said on Monday.

Officials conducted a required inspection on the now-destroyed property, located at 515 E. College St., on Dec. 29. They cited the building for nine violations, including a missing smoke alarm in a living room, an unmounted fire extinguisher, and an unapproved plug adapter, according to inspection records. A follow-up inspection was scheduled for Wednesday.

The particular violations cited for the East College Street residence aren’t overly hazardous, said Stan Laverman, a senior housing inspector for the city’s Housing and Inspections Services.

“Nothing stands out to us, like there was something that we missed,” Laverman said. “We were very happy [the residents] got out safely.”

Officials have not determined what caused the apartment fire.

Ten residents, including several UI students, were displaced because of the blaze. The building’s landlord, Jo Ellen Roffman of J&J Real Estate, could not be reached for comment Monday.

The Iowa City City Code requires each rental property to be inspected by the city’s Housing and Inspections Services every two years.

During the inspection process, city officials first notify the property owners when their required inspection is approaching. Tenants are also alerted, and a housing inspector will generally conduct the inspection accompanied by the landlord, said Jann Ream, the city’s code enforcement assistant.

Inspectors look at areas in mechanical, plumbing, and electrical — including making sure equipment is mounted and working properly and complies with the minimum housing code, Laverman said.

“We’re pretty fortunate in Iowa City that the majority of our housing is in compliance with city codes,” Laverman said.

Depending on the severity of the violations, officials will grant a grace period — typically 30 days — for the landlords to take care of them, Laverman said.

Several local landlords told The Daily Iowan they feel it’s their responsibility to comply with citations before the reinspection and that they fix what they can immediately.

The inspections department likely couldn’t be held responsible if a fire was caused because a building owner failed to comply between inspections, Ream said.

While none of the violations found at the East College Street structure were specifically deemed a fire hazard, officials emphasized the building was old, which can contribute to an increased risk.
Iowa City Fire Marshal John Grier said the causes of a fire usually vary by the property.

Firefighters are working on the scene this week to find how different factors could have come together to ignite a fire, Grier said. They should have the cause determined by today or Wednesday.


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