Lancaster City cracking down on illegal group housing

LANCASTER, P.A. --- Authorities say a man died from smoke inhalation following a kitchen fire in a home on the 300 block of South Anne Street on April 28.

Officials say he was one of 12 people living in the home.

Before that fire, the building's landlord was already on the radar of city officials with citations and complaints from residents in at least 10 of his owned properties.

On Wednesday, City Code Enforcement and police served warrants at those homes.

"I feel a profound responsibility for making sure the residents of Lancaster City have a safe place to live," said Mayor Danene Sorace.

One of the properties was condemned after authorities deemed it "uninhabitable."

Five families, ten people total, now are without a place to live.

Milzy Carrasco, director of Lancaster Neighborhood Engagement, said those displaced will receive temporary shelter, including area churches and a hotel, for the next couple days.

Through Community Action Partnership, Carrasco said they will also put the families into their "rapid rehousing" program.

"We also encourage the individuals to go out and don't wait for some of those programs to get started. If you have a need and you can go out and you have the resources to start looking for another place to live," said Carrasco.

Seven of the remaining nine properties received numerous "life safety issues" code violations, such as exposed wires and without smoke detectors.

Code enforcement is giving the property owner until the beginning of next week to fix those issues before deciding the fate of the buildings in a follow-up inspection.

Officials say there are between six to ten people living in each of the properties…

Residents in one of the buildings in question say they've been left in the dark about what happens next.

"Problem is here now we have children and we wouldn't have knew anything about the 72 hours and we would've been forced out on the street with our kids without having no knowledge of what was about to happen," said resident Tijuan Brown.

"It's just like well what's going to happen on Monday? You know, are we going to be here or are we not going to be here? We don't know and it's scary, it's definitely scary," said resident Marie Chalmers.

Neighbors of some of the homes in question, believe the group homes should be legal but say landlords needs to ensure they're safe.

"If there's a big a-- hole in the wall, they're going to rent it, regardless because that's what they need, they need a roof over their head. But it's not right...It's not right. They're taking advantage," said Iris Ortiz.

Attempts by FOX 43 to speak with the landlord of the properties that were searched were not answered Thursday night.

Lancaster City officials say anyone looking to help the families involved can donate on the website here and make a note it's "for Lancaster City families."