Archive for Wednesday, February 28, 2001

Following apartment fire, council seeks changes

February 28, 2001

The president of the Tonganoxie City Council wants to send a clear message to the company that manages apartments, where a fire destroyed four units on Feb. 14.

"We need to be united and let them know that this is not how we do things in Tonganoxie," Janet Angell said at Monday night's council meeting.

During that meeting, Bonnie Sivyer presented affidavits from residents of 28 apartments at Cedar Hills complex. Those sworn statements cited safety problems including electrical, heating, water and venting problems as well as general complaints about maintenance.

After hearing from Sivyer, council members unanimously agreed to:

Direct the city administrator to bring to them proposed ordinances that would strengthen the city's building codes, including the possibility that Tonganoxie require plumbers and electricians to be licensed. Council members agreed they wanted a work session soon on housing codes.

Send a letter to First Management of Lawrence, which manages the apartments, demanding the company correct safety and health concerns. That letter, council members decided, should include a timeline.

Ask for a letter from both First Management and the tenants group concerning the progress on fixing problems at the apartment complex, which is on Ridge Circle.

A fire on the night of Feb. 14 gutted a fourplex, displacing eight people and destroying their belongings. The fire started in a vacant apartment, where a fire in December had been ignited by an unattended candle, according to Tonganoxie fire chief Charlie Conrad.

A contractor had been renovating the vacant apartment, and Conrad said it's possible the fire stemmed from some of those renovations. The contractor was working without a building permit.

City inspector Tim Pinnick said he erred in January by doing a rough-in inspection of the apartment.

"It was my mistake for inspecting that without a building permit," he said. "There's no excuse for me not making sure there was a permit there. If you all have problems, call and I will check them out ordinance or no ordinance."

Sivyer, whose sister Cindy Foster had rented an apartment in the fourplex, said management had ignored tenants' complaints.

"There are hazardous conditions existing that could cause another fire," Sivyer said.

City administrator Chris Clark said First Management officials have agreed to meet to review concerns raised in the affidavits.

Dobie Bartlett of First Management said she attended the meeting to gather information.

"We are working with the city," she said.

She said the company is working to get electricians to the complex to review any complaints.

The fire chief said the fire-gutted apartment building should be razed. "It's something they need to do," Conrad said. "We currently don't have any ordinances that force their hand."

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