PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Department of Licenses and Inspections has revealed the North Philadelphia property where three people were killed in a fire to be an “illegal boarding house” with a disturbing past. Equally disturbing, federal charges currently being faced by the said owner of the building and his company Granite Hill Properties, LLC.
According to court documents, property owner Tyrone Duran, is currently facing federal charges in California for laundering illegal funds through the sites. Granite Hill operates 30 additional properties throughout Philadelphia which are now being investigated by officials in Philadelphia as well.
For almost three days, the bodies of Horace Mcouellem, his stepdaughter Alita Johnson and her four-year-old son Haashin Johnson laid inside of a 21st Street home after a fire tore through the property early Wednesday morning.
Family members tell Eyewitness News that they urged a second search of the building. That second search, held Friday evening, recovered the remains of their three previously unaccounted for loved ones, found hugging each other in a bathtub.
Family members pointed to cell phone video taken on the scene where a voice can be heard remarking about people still trapped as a clue that residents were still inside. Fire officials said in a press conference Tuesday that the message was never relayed to crews on the scene.
“Battalion 3 got a report from some occupants who were exiting the building that all occupants were out of the building,” said Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel.
That building, according to the Department of Licenses and Inspections has had a troubled history in the city.
“In 2014 L&I issued violations for an illegal rooming house and took the owner to court. The owner agreed to vacate the building which resolved that court case,” said L&I Commissioner, David Perri.
At the time of the fire, the property was once again rented out and though it was zoned for single family use, the Department says that it was being used as an illegal boarding house, accommodating 6-10 people.
“The building should have had a lithium battery powered smoke alarm at each floor level right outside the bedrooms,” added Perri.
No indication of smoke alarms inside of the building were found.
A statement from City Council President Darrell Clarke reads in part:
“Landlords and developers don’t always like it, but government rules and regulations regarding housing exist in order to keep people safe, period. Those who flout the law to make a quick buck must be held accountable.”
KYW Newsradio’s Mike Dougherty contributed to this report.