December 1, 2006

Landlord May Be Charged in Fire: Marvin Gardens Owner, Tenant to Be Cited for Code Violations

By Pete Bosak, The Centre Daily Times, State College, Pa.

Dec. 1--STATE COLLEGE -- Both a tenant and the owner of Marvin Gardens apartments will be cited for code violations after a fire gutted an apartment in the early morning hours Nov. 14, Centre Region senior code inspector Tim Knisely said Thursday.

An investigation into the fire, now being carried out by Centre Region Fire Marshal Walt Wise, will determine whether any criminal charges are warranted against Marvin Gardens owner Rodney Hendricks, Knisely said.

While the fire marshal has said the fire most likely was an accident, Knisely said multiple code violations were found in the apartment buildings that are Hendricks' responsibility, including a lack of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

These deficiencies endangered the lives of tenants, police officers and firefighters the night of the blaze, he said.

Hendricks also is the owner of a property at 500 E. Beaver Ave. where an April 2005 fire killed a Penn State student.

In that instance, there appeared to be no working smoke detectors in the Beaver Avenue house. But it wasn't clear whether the landlord or the tenants were responsible for the equipment's malfunction.

Another fire occurred in March at the Marvin Gardens complex, at the intersection of South Pugh Street and Easterly Parkway. That fire was ruled an accident. At the time, investigators found some smoke detectors were not working because their batteries had been removed.

In the latest fire, Knisely said the tenant whose apartment was gutted had removed the battery from the sole smoke alarm. That tenant is being cited and faces a minimum $150 fine.

But the inspection found other code violations including:

u Smoke alarms were lacking inside some bedrooms. By code, effective July 1, all bedrooms must have smoke alarms.

u Smoke alarms also were missing from the common hallway/stairway of Marvin Gardens.

Inspectors said they found Hendricks' staff at Marvin Gardens installing smoke detectors the morning of the fire.

"It also was discovered that carbon monoxide detectors were not present in the apartments," Knisely said in a news release. "Due to the heating system arrangement, 23 apartments required this detector, but none were observed."

Attempts to reach Hendricks late Thursday afternoon were unsuccessful.

A follow-up inspection of Marvin Gardens determined that Hendricks has corrected all the problems code inspectors found after the Nov. 14 fire, Knisely said.

Knisely said the lack of smoke alarms that night endangered not only the lives of Marvin Gardens tenants, but the lives of State College police officers and Alpha Fire Company firefighters who had to race inside to alert residents and evacuate them.

Because the tenant had disabled the only smoke detector in the apartment that burned, that person barely escaped, he said.

And because there were no smoke detectors in the common areas, residents of other apartments had no warning until borough police pounded on their doors, he said.

Knisely said it was "very lucky" that no one was hurt.

Pete Bosak can be reached at 235-3928.


Copyright (c) 2006, The Centre Daily Times, State College, Pa.

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