The State Fire Marshal’s Office found no violations during the inspections of Uptown buildings believed to be “doubles-to-dorms” student housing developments.
In an effort organized by state Rep. Aimee Freeman, University area neighbors had cited more than 100 buildings in complaints to the Fire Marshal. The complaints stated that the buildings are unlawfully occupied and require safety inspections.
The Fire Marshal’s Office announced Monday (Nov. 7) that its team of 19 deputies encountered no life safety concerns or improper commercial use of one- or two-family residences during the inspections. The announcement was met with skepticism from neighborhood groups.
The deputies were able to enter 30 of the buildings believed to be doubles-to-dorms (D2Ds), defined as single-, double- or multi-family residences structurally converted to private student dorms and usually housing four or more students per unit. No evidence of safety violations or commercial conversions were found in these 30 student residences, the Fire Marshal’s Office said in a written statement.
The deputies inspected the exterior of another 20 occupied buildings on the list, but could not get inside. The remaining 50 or addresses, the office stated, either had been demolished, were vacant and without power, were still under construction, or were occupied by a family rather than students.
“Of these properties, our teams were incredibly diligent in their efforts to investigate the complaint, which included exterior surveys, interviews with neighbors, records review and communications with owners,” the Fire Marshal’s Office stated. “In at least half of those instances, we had a supervisory audit conducted occurring on a different day and time to verify what deputies found the first time was the same during a follow-up by a different deputy. All of the complaints on these properties were then deemed unfounded.”
Susan Johnson of Town of Carrollton Watch, a neighborhood watchdog group that prepared the list of D2Ds for the Fire Marshal, disputes those findings.
About 25 of the buildings on the list are currently under construction, vacant or occupied by non-students, Johnson stated, not the 50-plus reported by the Fire Marshal. None had been demolished, she said, with the possible exception of a storage shed at 7700 Burthe St.
“It’s my belief that, despite the best efforts of the Office of State Fire Marshal, the documentation submitted by the building owners is, in many cases, inaccurate,” Johnson said. “For example, three buildings — and perhaps more — in use today were never issued a certificate of occupancy. This fact would have raised a red flag.”
A certificate of occupancy from the city’s Department of Safety & Permits is typically required for new construction, when a residential building is converted to commercial use, or when a rental or investment building changes hands.
Johnson and other D2D opponents are not dissuaded by the Fire Marshal deputies’ findings. She said they have requested a breakdown of the addresses inspected by the Fire Marshal’s Office.
She is calling on University area residents to assemble accurate documentation and resubmit requests for life safety inspections and to check for the improper commercial use of one- or two-family residential buildings.
A Fire Marshal’s Office spokesperson said that, although the operation has ended, the office remains open to additional information. “If the information and/or evidence is substantial enough,” stated Ashley Rodrigue, public affairs director for the Fire Marshal’s Office, “the complaint will be reopened and reevaluated.”