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Fatal DC fire that killed 9-year-old referred for criminal investigation, Mayor Bowser says

The property where the fire happened was an unlicensed rental, and tenants should know their rights, officials say.

WASHINGTON — After a weekend house fire killed a 9-year-old boy, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is referring the case for a criminal investigation, saying the property was an unlicensed rental.

The fire broke out in a two-story row house in the 700 block of Kennedy Street NW on Sunday morning. Fire crews battled the flames in the heat, and pulled out 9-year-old Yafety Solomon and a man, both of whom died from their injuries.

A woman and two MPD officers were also taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, officials said.

"I was real upset," said witness Theresa Montgomery, who lives in the area. "I was on my way to the store, and I heard the lady and the man hollering, 'Help. Help. Help.' The police was over there, but they couldn't get the door open."

A property search showed that the owner of the building is James G. Walker. According to D.C. court records, he owns a house in Northwest D.C. that is listed as his mailing address.

He also owns a property in Baltimore, according to a search on the city's website.

Bowser is referring the incident to the D.C. Office of the Attorney and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, according to a statement released by her office Wednesday afternoon.

Attorney General Karl Racine said in a statement Wednesday evening, "My heart breaks for the 9-year-old boy who succumbed to his injuries from Sunday’s fatal Kennedy St. fire, and my sympathies are with the families of both victims. Our office has received a referral from DCRA for a criminal investigation and we are pursuing the matter.”

Attorney General Racine has pursued numerous cases against problem landlords since his tenure began.

Most recently, he sued a Ward 7 landlord for exposing tenants to toxic lead paint.

RELATED: 9-year-old rescued from Northwest DC fire has died, officials say

The criminal investigations are in addition to the investigations already underway by the District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the Metropolitan Police Department, and the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, officials said. 

"Our hearts are broken knowing that this fire claimed the lives of two of our neighbors – one of them just nine years old. The District will not tolerate landlords who prey on vulnerable populations, operating unlicensed rental properties and showing no concern for people’s safety," Bowser said. "My Administration is conducting a comprehensive investigation of the property owner to identify any other rental properties and whether they are housing people in dangerous conditions. Because of the circumstances that may have contributed to these deaths, I am referring the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the DC Office of the Attorney General for criminal investigation."

Before a residential property owner can legally rent out residential properties in the District, they must first obtain a business license from DCRA, which requires an inspection. In this instance, the property owner did not have the required business license or Certificate of Occupancy and there was no DCRA inspection of the property, officials said. 

"On this sad occasion, I want to take the opportunity to remind District renters that they have rights," DCRA Director Ernest Chrappah said. "Please reach out to us if you’re renting a property that does not have the necessary fire safety requirements. And when you reach out, please know that you can do so anonymously. We don’t want anyone to fear retribution from a landlord or worry about their immigration status. What matters is your safety."

In the District, rental properties are required to provide all of the following fire safety measures:

  • Interconnected smoke alarms on every level and inside each sleeping room
  • At least one working fire extinguisher
  • Carbon monoxide detector
  • Exits, including doors and windows, that can be opened from the inside without the need for keys or any special knowledge or effort
  • Electrical outlets, switches and fixtures that work properly
  • For high rise buildings, a fire safety evacuation plan, along with fire drills at least once per year
  • At least one exterior emergency escape for every sleeping room below the fourth floor

A representative with DCRA told WUSA 9 Wednesday that so far this year, the office has issued 844 fire-related citations to landlords in the District.

The rep. said the most common violations are not maintaining fire doors in operable condition and not providing fire extinguishers.

It is unclear whether or not this property was in violation of either. WUSA9 reached out to the listed property owner, however both numbers were out of service.

If any of these items are not in place, tenants should call DCRA at 202-442-9557 or dial 311.

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