Tulane St. fire spurs charges

May 18, 1993

Tulane St. fire spurs charges

Probe estimates damage at $370K

By William Byrne

Staff Writer

Princeton Borough fire investigators estimate that the North Tulane Street apartment house that twice caught fire this month sustained $370,000 worth of damage.

An investigation completed Monday also resulted in building and fire code violation charges being filed against Princeton Investment Co. Ltd, the owner of the house where eight Princeton University students resided, according to Borough Fire Official William Drake.

Mr. Drake. who conducted the investigation with Princeton Borough Police Detective Ralph Terracciano, also said that Prince-ton Investment Co. may raze the building.

“My understanding is that the owner has had an engineering company look at the house and examine the property,” Mr. Drake said. “From what I’ve heard, the value of the building versus the cost of repairing it is not worth it, and apparently they are going to tear it down. But I haven’t heard anything definite yet.”

Although the exact cause was not determined, investigators concluded that the first blaze started at shortly before midnight on May 1 when a careless smoker discarded a match or cigarette near a sofa in the first-floor living room of the three-story house at 53 N. Tulane St.

Three firefighters were injured battling the flames, which gutted most of the house. Mr. Drake said the fire quickly spread from the first floor to the top two floors by igniting the combustible siding materials.

A second fire that broke out three days later, shortly after 8 a.m., was quickly extinguished. Mr. Drake attributed that fire to arson, saying it started in a mattress inside a first-floor bedroom that sustained little damage in the first fire.

Some of the university students living in the house moved there in March after a fire forced them out of their Blair Hall dorm rooms, Mr. Drake said.

Princeton Investment Co. purchased the house for $350,000 a few years ago and was trying to sell it for $260,000 prior to the fires, Mr. Drake said. The $370,000 damage estimate included the value of the house and its contents —mostly personal belongings of the students. He said an exact figure would not be available until individual insurance claims are completed, which could take six to eight months.

Princeton Investment Co. has been ordered to pay a $500 penalty for violating the provisions of the New Jersey Uniform Fire Code requiring owners of single-family rental dwellings to obtain a “Certificate of Smoke Detector Compliance” from the fire official prior to a change in tenants.

It is not known whether the two smoke detectors found during the investigation were in working order when the fire started, Mr. Drake said.

On Friday the borough filed three separate complaints related to the borough Rent Registration Ordinance that could cost Princeton Investment Co. anywhere from $300 to $3,000.

Two complaints charge the owner with not filing a notice of change in tenant with the rent registration coordinator when six students moved into the house in September 1992.

The other complaint charges Princeton Investment Co. with failure to update a rental registration form when it began renting six bedrooms instead of the four bedrooms noted on the original dental registration form filed in December 1991.

The fines for each charge range from a minimum of $100 to a maximum of $1,000, according to Mr. Drake.

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