Decrying dangerous housing conditions for college students, city inspectors cited a landlord Tuesday for running an illegal rooming house in Allston where a fire caused the death of a Boston University senior who allegedly shared the structure with 18 other tenants.
The owner of the two-family structure, Anna Belokurova, was also cited for not obtaining permits needed to create bedrooms in the basement at 87 Linden St.
“It’s unfortunate that the economics of off-campus housing is such that landlords would be willfully ignorant of the possible consequences of offering unsafe housing to students,” Bryan Glascock, the city’s commissioner of Inspectional Services, said a short time after the violations were issued.
The three-alarm fire Sunday killed Binland Lee, a 22-year-old BU marine sciences student from Brooklyn, N.Y. Belokurova, who lives in Newton, was ordered to secure the remnants of the charred three-story building immediately, according to documents released Tuesday by the city’s Inspectional Services Department.
Frank Fragomeni, the attorney representing Belokurova, did not return messages left on his office phone and another phone number listed in his name.
The property sits in the middle of an Allston neighborhood with a considerable stock of housing for students who have tight budgets but want to live close to campus.
In the wake of Sunday’s fatal fire and another blaze 15 months earlier on the same street that left at least two students seriously injured, city officials are asking students to contact authorities if they believe their dwellings pose a safety risk or violate city laws.
Glascock said he is still trying to get basic information from Belokurova, despite talking with her a second time on Monday. The department is seeking all 19 rental agreements and the educational level of the students. A city ordinance prohibits more than four unrelated undergraduate students from sharing a dwelling. Officials said at least six of the 19 residents were BU students.
“For the students and parents who would think that this is something that every college kid has to endure, there are consequences for that kind of attitude,” he said. “As a parent, you want your child to feel safe. You should be concerned about grades and graduation and jobs, not unsafe or unhealthy housing.”
City inspectors examined the building Monday. The last time Inspectional Services workers reviewed the house was in 1992, when the department approved a prior owner’s plan to convert what had been a single-family home into a two-family. Those modifications included a firewall that closed the internal stairway between the first and second floors, creating a maze-like path from one story to another, interrupted by a steel door that served as a divider between the units, the Globe reported Monday.
The citations issued by the city Tuesday are civil infractions. Under city law, the landlord has 24 hours to remedy the problems detailed in the citations, but that appeared to be a moot issue, since authorities expect the house to be razed.
Glascock declined to comment on whether he believed criminal charges should be pursued in the case. But he mentioned the case of two Quincy brothers sentenced last year to three years in prison for renting an unsafe basement apartment where an immigrant father and his two young sons were trapped and perished in a 2009 fire. The basement apartment at 100 Robertson St. in Quincy lacked proper egress and smoke detectors.
“I don’t know what penalty is enough if you're putting people at risk of life and limb, if you break the law in such a way that you’re threatening the health and safety of somebody,” said Glascock. “There’s precedent for that, what happened in Quincy.”
The cause of the Allston fire, which broke out at 6:30 a.m. Sunday, remains under investigation, fire officials said. The fire appeared to be heaviest on the second floor and in the attic. Lee had a room in the attic, where her body was found. The structure, assessed at $615,000, was a total loss.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley has assigned a prosecutor to investigate the student’s death, standard procedure in such cases. “We investigate every unattended death to determine whether charges are warranted against any person in any capacity,” Conley said. “This case is no exception.
“We’re not prejudging the case, and the probe is in its very early stages,” the prosecutor said. “We’ll follow the evidence wherever it leads, and we’ll apply the law fairly to the facts before we make a charging decision.”
Katie Theriault said she was one of 15 people who lived at 87 Linden St. from 2008 to 2009; a group of eight signed one lease and seven signed a separate lease. Theriault said Belokurova once forgot to order gas, leaving the tenants without the use of the oven and stove for two weeks.