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Absentee Landlords A Growing Problem In McKeesport

McKEESPORT (KDKA) -- Fire investigators say the McKeesport home where a fatal fire started last weekend did not have any smoke detectors.

The issue is shedding light on absentee landlords, which is a serious and growing problem in McKeesport.

KDKA's Ralph Iannotti Reports:

The house where the fatal fire occurred Sunday night was owned by a rental company based in Chicora, Butler County. KDKA reached out to them Thursday without success.

McKeesport is not the only town where there are lots of abandoned homes. They are often bought up and owned by absentee landlords who fix up the properties and then turn them into investment incomes by renting them out.

In McKeesport, however, the problem of absentee landlords is especially acute.

"Sixty percent of McKeesport, real estate in McKeesport, is owned by somebody who does not live here," said Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala.

"They may not have the proper carbon monoxide detector, smoke detectors. Often times, landlords let the houses get in deplorable conditions," said McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko. "We then try to cite, we send letters, out ordinance officers, and it becomes very problematic for the city, especially when sometimes you can't find the landlords and you send letter after letter."

On Thursday, Allegheny County and McKeesport officials inspected what was left of a rented home where a 2-year-old girl lost her life last weekend.

The landlord, Steel City Realty Investments, could face charges if it is determined the home had no smoke detectors or fire alarms.

"We've actually been meeting quite often, strategizing on ways to get a good grasp of the landlords, what properties are, and the absentee landlords is a big issue that goes on in the city," said Mayor Cherepko.

So far, investigators say they've found no evidence of either smoke detectors or carbon monoxide detectors in the home that went up in flames.

"Would a fire alarm make a difference? I don't know. I mean, I hope that it would. Carbon monoxide, maybe," Zappala said.

Just last week, five members of the same family in Glassport went to the hospital after they suffered carbon monoxide poisoning because of a furnace leak in the house they were renting.

Glassport officials say the home was owned by an absentee landlord who lives in Israel.

UPDATE (3/28/14):
KDKA's Bob Allen Reports:

The District Attorney's Office says so far no remnants of any smoke detectors have been found in the ruins and neighbors did not recall hearing any alarms.

But the owner of the McKeesport property says smoke detectors were in the house.

KDKA went to Kevin Kamenski's home in Chicora on Friday where he operates Steel City Property Management.

Kamenski did not want to talk on camera, but he told KDKA's Bob Allen by phone that smoke detectors were on every floor and in every bedroom as required by the McKeesport Housing Authority.

Kamenski says he had to have working smoke detectors in order to pass a housing authority inspection several months ago.

He thinks extreme heat from the fire destroyed all of the contents including the detectors.

KDKA's Bob Allen Reports:

DA: Fatal McKeesport Fire Sparked By 5-Year-Old (3/27/14)
More McKeesport News
More Reports by Ralph Iannotti

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