House of fatal fire not licensed as boarding house
A Cox Avenue residence where a Thomasville man died in a Feb. 27 fire was never inspected as a boarding house.
City Manager Kelly Craver on Monday said the Thomasville Inspections Department has no records of any usage change for 12 Cox Ave. A boarding house is classified as a residence in which people rent rooms to strangers, Craver said. There were up to nine people living at the home, which was made up of seven rooms, according to Tony Campbell, a resident.
Richard Davis Dallas, 61, died when a fire broke out at the two-story home.
“We had not been aware of the change of use in that house by the owner into that type of operation,” Craver said. “It had not been inspected.”
According to the Davidson County Geographical Information System website, 12 Cox Ave. has been owned by John and Barbara Van Horn of Kernersville for more than 10 years. When called Monday evening, John Van Horn had no comment.
Craver said he checked permits for home renovations as far back as 1961 and found nothing that indicated a change in usage for the address.
“There was just a standard permit for an electrical service update, which is no different than what I did to my house,” said Craver. “There was a heating and cooling system installed, which is no different than the one at my house. There is nothing indicating that they were changing the use of the property. Neither the fire department or the inspections department was aware of any change in usage of this house.”
Chuck George, the city’s planning and zoning administrator, said homeowners who want to open a boarding house must notify the city of their intent and provide a layout of the plans for the residence.
“Then we have to make sure it meets our building code and fire code requirements,” George said. “A plan would go before our building inspector to make sure it meets all of our requirements as required by the Department of Insurance.
“[The homeowners] haven’t done any of this.They need to let us know that it is going to be a boarding house. As far as we know, it’s just a single residential. We weren’t aware that this one was a boarding house at all.”
Residents who survived the fire said the home had no smoke alarms or properly functioning fire extinguishers. Thomasville police detective Chet Jarrell said authorities are investigating the allegations and will present their findings to the district attorney, who will decide if any charges should be filed against the homeowners.
Jarrell on Friday said the homeowners were notified of the fire.
“The investigation is ongoing,” said Sgt. Brad Saintsing, Thomasville Police Department's public information officer.
Had the city known the home was being used as a boarding house, Craver said the city inspections department would have contacted the owners and had cause for the fire marshal to inspect the residence.
“There are a number of regulations that have to be met with smoke alarms, lavatory facilities, things of that nature,” Craver said. “The inspections department would make sure they met all the criteria. They would be given 30 days to bring it up to code.”
If the house was not brought up to code, George the city could have shut it down.
Craver said he is aware of only two boarding houses in Thomasville.
The investigation into the cause of the fire is closed and it has been ruled undetermined. The fire started in Dallas’ second floor bedroom.
Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or firstname.lastname@example.org.