On Monday we spoke with Director Ernest Chrappah of D.C.’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, or DCRA, about the lethal fire in Brightwood last week and what his agency is doing to enforce safety regulations at rental properties in the District.

During that segment, we asked Director Chrappah if was aware of any issues at the Kennedy Street property prior to the fire. He responded: “With regard to this property, it’s been there for a while. There are several business licenses associated, which have expired, and we are continuing to look at the history of the property.”

But the Washington Post reports today that, according to City Administrator Rashad Young, a D.C. police officer reported dangerous conditions at the Kennedy Street property this spring — and that he reported them to DCRA, which tried and failed to follow up with an inspection.

We’ll have an update from Director Chrappah, who joins us by phone.

Produced by Maura Currie

Guests

  • Ernest Chrappah Director, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs

Transcript

  • 12:00:02

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Before we start today's scheduled topics on domestic workers and the National Book Festival, we have an update on the tragic fire at a rental property in Brightwood that left two people dead last week. On Monday we spoke with Director Ernest Chrappah of D.C.'s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, DCRA, about the fire and what his agency is doing to enforce safety regulations at rental properties in the District. We asked Director Chrappah if DCRA was aware of any issues at the Kennedy Street property prior to the fire. This is what he told us.

  • 12:00:38

    ERNEST CHRAPPAHWith regard to this property, it's been there for a while. There are several business licenses associated with it that have expired, and we are continuing to look at the history of the property.

  • 12:00:48

    NNAMDICan you speak to any new information that's been gleaned since the fire and subsequent investigations?

  • 12:00:54

    CHRAPPAHNo. With the ongoing investigation we'll let the process play itself out. And then I when there's a discovery would do the appropriate action necessary.

  • 12:01:04

    NNAMDIWell, The Washington Post reports today that according to City Administrator Rashad Young a D.C. police officer did report dangerous conditions in the Kennedy Street property this spring. And that he reported them to DCRA, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which tried and failed to follow up with an inspection. Joining us to respond via phone is Director Chrappah. Director Chrappah, thank you very much for joining us.

  • 12:01:30

    CHRAPPAHThank you for having me on the show again, Kojo.

  • 12:01:32

    NNAMDII mentioned The Post reports that a DCRA inspector received their complaint from D.C. police officer and tried to enter and inspect the Kennedy Street building three times this past March. When did you become aware of this?

  • 12:01:45

    CHRAPPAHKojo, following the referral to the Office of Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney Office we intensified our search for answers, for clues. We looked at every nuke and cranny to see what we could find. And as I mentioned when I was on your show earlier, we will have the process play itself out and make public announcements once we come across critical information. Through this process over the last several days we have uncovered the notification from the MPD officer and the steps that we took and the steps that we could have taken. And the big lesson here is that in the wake of this tragedy if there's anything our agency could have done better we are now reforming the agency. We've put in place changes before this fire and we'll continue that rapid transformation to deliver on the need to protect the public and the residents of the District of Columbia.

  • 12:02:41

    NNAMDIThere have been conflicting reports on the employment status of the inspector who was notified about the complaint. Can you clarify what the employment status of that inspector is now?

  • 12:02:54

    CHRAPPAHThere are four individuals who are in administrative leave between DCRA and FESD.

  • 12:03:01

    NNAMDIBetween DCRA and whom? I didn't get the last past.

  • 12:03:05

    CHRAPPAHFESD, Fire Emergency Services Department.

  • 12:03:09

    NNAMDISo there people on leave from both of those departments.

  • 12:03:12

    CHRAPPAHThat's correct.

  • 12:03:13

    NNAMDIWhat should have happened if this inspector tried and failed three times to enter the property?

  • 12:03:19

    CHRAPPAHFirst, it wasn't an inspector, and that's one thing that is important for everybody to know. It was investigator, and the role of investigation is to gather enough information that will lead to some type of inspection. We have certified inspectors. Recognizing that the iron clad Fourth Amendment rights that have to be respected, protected and followed, when we have information and we cannot get into a property our process is to seek an administrative search warrant from the D.C. Superior Court so that we can get into the property.

  • 12:04:01

    NNAMDIOkay. So that's what was supposed to have been done. Seeking a court warrant to enter and inspect the property.

  • 12:04:09

    CHRAPPAHProvided there's enough information that shows clearly that there's a danger.

  • 12:04:14

    NNAMDIAnd that means that if such a court warrant is issued then you can enter the property without the permission of the owner of the property, without the permission of renters in the property. You can essentially break into the property if you have to.

  • 12:04:28

    CHRAPPAHThat's correct. And it's important to recognize that while this was an illegal rooming situation it was a home for people. And nobody will feel comfortable if the government shows up unannounced and breaks into your home. So we have to be very concerned about the health and safety of people and balance that with Fourth Amendment rights as well.

  • 12:04:51

    NNAMDIYou mentioned earlier the DCRA was now going over its procedures, which suggests that this is not necessarily a one off case of a complaint. That there may be more systematic issues with work flows at DCRA. Is that indeed what you're looking at?

  • 12:05:07

    CHRAPPAHThe mayor has ordered a top down review of several of our agencies. And at DCRA we started a road map to digital transformation back in November. And as part of that we're committed to fundamentally changing process activities and how it creates value. Prior to this fire we've implemented several changes that are beginning to bear fruit even in the difficult circumstances. We've put the case tracking system on the Cloud platform where we have this ability to age in reports. We have a program manager that reviews closed cases. We have staff that are undergoing different sorts of training. We are making an investment in culture change so that as individuals within the organization we will take greater ownership of the work that we do. And we go above and beyond when we are presented with an opportunity to protect the public.

  • 12:06:08

    NNAMDIWell, you mentioned that this is a top down review. That means they're looking at your office also?

  • 12:06:14

    CHRAPPAHWe are looking at every improvement opportunity.

  • 12:06:17

    NNAMDIOkay.

  • 12:06:18

    CHRAPPAHThat is what we're committed to as an organization that has to continuously improve to exceed public expectations.

  • 12:06:29

    NNAMDIErnest Chrappah is the Director of the D.C.'s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, DCRA. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:06:36

    CHRAPPAHThank you for having me.

  • 12:06:37

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we will return to our scheduled conversations about D.C.'s domestic workers and later on about the National Book Festival 2019. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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