Baton Rouge, Louisiana
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Burned homeless sanctuary had code violations

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BATON ROUGE - A fire that tore through a house on Plank Rd. Monday revealed fire code violations and forced even more people out of other homes.

"The law is very clear," Fire Marshal Butch Browning said.

Investigators found the two-story home was not properly permitted as commercial because more than five unrelated people were living in it.

"When you have more than four people unrelated living in a building, it's no longer a one or two family dwelling. It's what's called a multifamily, which by Louisiana law would be a commercial property," Browning said.

Marshals inspect commercial properties to help prevent fires.

Investigators found the man renting the Plank Rd. Home had another rental and homeless shelter not in compliance.

"He had five people living in [the home not burned]. One person was moved out so it reduced the capacity to four unrelated. So that building is operating properly," Browing said.

At the shelter, inspectors found the electricity was not working properly so homeless people were forced out.

The electricity has been restored and people are again allowed to use the shelter.

"I wasn't aware of that," landlord Raymond Bennie said about the commercial permit. "I was thinking it's rooms I'm renting. If you have a six bedroom house and you have six people living in it that isn't family, that's fine."

Bennie now plans to be in full compliance.

He rents the houses to people who were recently homeless for seven dollars a day to help them get off the street.

"Whatever I did wrong I'm going to right that. What else could I do? There is a lot of people that are talking the talk but they're not walking the walk. I'm out there trying to help the homeless and I'm just one man," Bennie said.

"He was trying to do the right thing, trying to help these people out," Browning said. "But I think after this fire that's occurred, he himself realizes how serious fire code enforcement is and fire code standards are."

The fire marshal is considering civil penalties for the violations.



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