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Code violations are focus of fatal fire in Allston

Inspectors to assess if too many tenants lived in Allston house destroyed by fire

Mark Thomas O’Neill Jr. examined the Linden Street house.

JESSICA RINALDI FOR THE GLOBE

Mark Thomas O’Neill Jr. examined the Linden Street house.

City inspectors scoured a multifamily house in Allston Monday where a Boston University student died and 15 people were injured in a fire early Sunday, focusing on several possible code violations, including whether too many people were living in the structure and whether tenants had the means to escape.

“We have a number of concerns as you might imagine, first and foremost the number of people living in the building . . . whether or not that was appropriate,” said Bryan ­Glascock, commissioner of the city’s Inspectional Services Department.

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Binland Lee, a BU marine sciences student from Brooklyn, N.Y., was killed when a fire ripped through the top two floors of the three-story, nine-bedroom building where officials said 19 people were living.

Inspectors spoke briefly with ­Anna Belokurova, the owner of 87 Linden St., as the fire raged, but the conversation was brief, as she was “deeply distraught,” Glascock said. Investigators expect to inter­view her again, he said.

The cause of the fire, which broke out at 6:30 a.m. Sunday, remains under investigation.

According to a city ordinance, no more than four un­related undergraduate students are permitted to live in a dwelling, but according to authorities, at least six of the 19 residents at 87 Linden were Boston University students.

Officials are also looking ­into whether there were any changes to the building’s ­approved layout that could have made it dangerous. A modification granted in 1992 included a fire wall that closed the internal stairway between the first and second floors, which created a maze-like path from one story to another, ­interrupted by a steel door that served as a divider between the units.

From the third floor, where Lee’s bedroom was, an internal stairway was the only way out, city officials said. From the second floor, there is an exterior stairway to leave the building. Officials said they did not know whether Lee had attempted to go down the stairs but was trapped by the fire.

“We’re also concerned about whether or not some of the spaces in the building were ­being appropriately used . . . and whether or not everybody had adequate means of escape,” Glascock said.

Several telephone calls to Belokurova, who has a listed address in Newton, went un­answered.

City officials said Belokurova never sought official walk-throughs, required by the city when rentals change hands. Glascock said the rentals at 87 Linden had changed hands at least twice but probably more since the city last inspected the building in 1992.

Records released by the ­Inspectional Services Department show that Belokurova has been cited dozens of times for not properly handling garbage disposal at the property.

Glascock said that a property on Reedsdale Street in ­Allston that is owned by ­Belokurova has an outstanding violation for an illegal basement.

According to court records, Belokurova filed for bankruptcy in December 2010, listing ­assets of $1.8 million and debt of $1.6 million. As part of a court-ordered proceeding, she filed monthly statements of ­income on her four properties, including three in the Boston area and another in Hyannis.

Belokurova recently listed rental income from the Linden Street address as $2,000 monthly, but received $2,700 on one occasion. Her bankruptcy ended in August 2012.

After Sunday’s fire, the property, assessed at $615,500, was a total loss, said a spokesman for the Boston Fire Department, Steve MacDonald.

Boston University student Erica Ross, 22, returned Monday morning to the fire scene, where, she said, both she and Lee had been living since last September. Ross was at her boyfriend’s home and not at the Linden Street building when the fire broke out. Ross said Lee’s room was one of four bedrooms on the third floor.

Lee, 22, a senior at BU, was minoring in journalism and was scheduled to graduate next month, according to the school.

Lee was a ­“really nice person’’ who was well liked,Ross said. “She was really smart. She was working on a lot of her own research, and it’s ­really sad that she’s not going to be with us to finally graduate.”

BU is providing housing for students who, like Ross, lost most or all of their belongings in the fire.

In January 2012, a fire gutted a house at 84 Linden Street and displaced numerous students. One student was left in a coma after he jumped from the second floor to escape the flames; he later awoke but suffered neurological problems.

Glascock said that after the first Linden Street fire and again in September a team of officials from his department conducted a door-to-door fire prevention campaign. On both occasions they knocked on the door at 87 Linden, but there was no answer.

“Again, we will be out in this neighborhood this afternoon and again tomorrow fliering doors . . . urging people if they’re concerned about the safety, the quality of the housing they’re in, schedule an appoint­ment with our housing inspectors,” he said.

Glascock cited Mayor ­Thomas M. Menino’s recently passed rental housing inspection ordinance as a tool to combat absentee landlords and unsafe conditions at rentals marketed to students.

That ordinance requires property owners to register their rentals.

Registration for the city’s stock of 140,000 rental units begins in May, and inspection will follow in 2014, with about 20 percent to be inspected each year over the next five years.

Andrew Caffrey of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Brian Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com.
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