City Judge Says Empty Building Notorious For Fires Must Come Down

The Lawrenceburg City Court judge says the apartment building on Short Street is unsafe, a fire hazard, and a danger to the public.

A judge has ordered that an unsafe building on Short Street in downtown Lawrenceburg be demolished. Photo by Mike Perleberg, Eagle Country 99.3.

(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) – The owners of a fire-damaged apartment building in downtown Lawrenceburg must tear it down, or the city will, a judge has ruled.

The building on the 200 block of Short Street has been the scene of four fires, three of them since April of 2017. The most recent fire on January 23, 2019 destroyed most of the roof. It was sparked when winds blew a nearby power line into the unoccupied apartment building’s gutter system.

On February 12, Lawrenceburg City Court Judge Joseph R. Johns ruled that the structure owned by Maria and Thomas LaRosa is unsafe, a fire hazard, and a danger to the public, as defined by state law. He has given the owners 14 days to secure the permits needed to complete the demolition of the structure.

If the LaRosas fail to comply with the order, the city shall demolish the unsafe structure in according with the Indiana unsafe building law, Johns determined.

Already unhappy with the condition of the building after fires in 2017 and 2018, the City of Lawrenceburg had been on the LaRosas to get the proper permits to repair it. Following the January fire, the city moved to have the apartment building either repaired or demolished.

In an unsafe building hearing in Lawrenceburg City Court on February 5, city building commissioner Carl Fryman said the fire left the building’s roof in danger of collapsing. Others who testified at the hearing backed up his assessment of the building.

The LaRosas' attorney, Bob Ewbank, contended that the January fire was caused by the city’s negligence regarding the swaying power line. City attorney Del Weldon countered that regardless of the fire’s cause, the building is clearly unsafe and should be razed.

Johns wrote in his order that the multiple fires have caused substantial damage to the roof structure and rafter system.

“Portions of the roof system have collapsed, leaving large sections of the townhomes exposed to the physical elements. Other key components, such as the roof joist system have been severely damaged and are at risk of complete failure. Failure of these components could cause a complete collapse of roof system,” the order states.

The city judge noted that a chimney has already collapsed. He also saw concern in that people have been unlawfully occupying the basement although the building is supposed to be uninhabited, doors have been left open, and that the owners have not been successful in gaining security plan approval from the State of Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

LaRosa was not willing to comment Wednesday about the court’s ruling or a possible appeal. She has previously told Eagle Country 99.3 that she believes the city wants to acquire the property for redevelopment. 

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