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‘The time is now:’ Inspection program follows deadly Alpine fire

Updated April 21, 2021 - 6:44 pm

Las Vegas will routinely inspect older residences and other extended-stay complexes that have been converted from motels or hotels as part of its direct response to the deadly Alpine Motel Apartments fire in December 2019.

Under the inspection program approved by the City Council on Wednesday, such properties built before 1981 and with four or more units will be subjected to city inspections at least once per year to ensure that they are up to code.

Inspections may occur more frequently if a building is revealed to be out of compliance, according to the city.

The move comes after six people were killed and more than a dozen others injured in the deadliest residential fire in the city’s history.

The Alpine, built in 1972, had a history of fire code violations and police calls for service. A yearlong investigation by the Las Vegas Review-Journal found the property had not been inspected by fire officials for nearly three years leading up to the early-morning blaze officials say originated from an unattended stovetop. Las Vegas officials also previously had declined to designate the Alpine a chronic nuisance for police activity that could have shut it down.

Also, the newspaper documented that the audible fire alarm had been silenced a month before the deadly blaze and that a property manager had ordered an emergency fire exit door bolted shut. The newspaper’s reporting on the tragedy was recognized by the Nevada Press Association with a first-place award for breaking news reporting, a Sigma Delta Chi Award for deadline reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, a first-place award in the 2020 Best of the West journalism competition for breaking news coverage and a first-place award in the 2021 Best of the West contest for project reporting.

“It was a tragedy and I could not believe it and brought together our staff immediately,” Mayor Carolyn Goodman said Wednesday, referring to city actions after the fire. “We don’t play around with this. It was a very deep and intense look at everything … to make sure that we were protecting the lives of residents.”

Nearly 30 buildings targeted

The inspection program will focus on 28 properties, largely downtown, that “kind of fell between the cracks” in terms of code oversight because before becoming apartment or extended-stay residences, they were motels, according to city Chief Operations and Development Officer Tom Perrigo.

They were also constructed before the adoption of more stringent building codes that required safer fire and structural systems, Perrigo said.

The city will be able to issue notices of violations and orders to comply, which could lead to civil or criminal citations for properties not up to standard, according to the ordinance. It will also be illegal to rent a unit to someone until the unit has passed inspection.

Property owners may face discipline for excessive police calls if they do not adequately respond to them.

The city will promote training for property owners and tenants regarding their rights and responsibilities, according to the ordinance, which requires that each floor have at least one sign indicating that concerns about fire and other safety issues may be reported by phone to the city.

‘The time is now’

Susy Vasquez, the executive director of the Nevada State Apartment Association, requested that the bill increase the city’s 24-hour notice of inspection to properties to 48 hours since state law requires that residents themselves be given a 24-hour notice.

Councilman Stavros Anthony and Councilwoman Victoria Seaman voted against the bill as they sought an additional two weeks to address outstanding concerns from the industry. But others were less inclined to wait, believing that any cleanup language did not need to delay it.

“I think the time is now,” said Councilwoman Olivia Diaz, who represents parts of downtown. “I think we need to have that safety net.”

Councilman Cedric Crear, whose district includes the Alpine, said the new program was “a call to a response of some tragic incidents that have taken place over the last few years in (the) downtown corridor.”

And Goodman described it as “critical” to act on Wednesday.

“We do not like slum landlords that don’t keep their property up and put people’s lives at risk,” she said.

The introduction of the inspection program follows reforms passed in September, when city lawmakers agreed to increase inspections and fines for neglected apartment buildings and extended-stay hotels.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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