Court Battle For Fate Of Building Where Four Fires Have Happened Since 2002

The City of Lawrenceburg wants to see the building demolished.

A fire caused further damage to the apartment building on the 200 block of Short Street in Lawrenceburg. Photo by Chuck Folop.

(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) - The City of Lawrenceburg and an apartment building owner are at odds over what should happen to the building which caught fire last month.

The apartment building on the 200 block of Short Street had been the scene of four separate fires since 2002. The most recent happened just last month when the structure was uninhabited.

The city has taken building owners Thomas and Maria LaRosa to court seeking to get the building deemed unsafe. An unsafe building lawsuit in Dearborn County Court was thrown out last year. However, the city is now seeking that declaration in Lawrenceburg City Court.

In addition to the unsafe building declaration, the city is asking Lawrenceburg City Court Judge Joseph Johns to grant an accelerated time frame for demolition of the structure.

“In our country, the property of the owner is sacrosanct, but this property is a true danger to the community,” Lawrenceburg City Attorney Del Weldon said during a Tuesday hearing. “We are left with a building that could fall down during this hearing, Judge.”

City building commissioner Carl Fryman said the fire-damaged building could collapse if rain begins to pool on tarps that are covering its roof damaged in the January 2019 fire. Some supporting structures were charred more than an eighth of an inch, greatly reducing their stability, he explained.

The city wants the building to be demolished within 10 days of the order, with the property owners bearing the financial cost.

The LaRosas, however, are asking the city court for time to repair the building.

Her attorney, Bob Ewbank, stated that last month’s fire was caused by the city’s negligence. The Indiana State Fire Marshal told Eagle Country 99.3 in January that the latest fire “was concluded to be a natural fire caused by power lines contacting the guttering system on the building.” The building itself had all electrical service disconnected at the time.

Weldon countered that the cause of the fire does not change the city's belief that the building is unsafe.

Ewbank said the property can be repaired. His clients have hired electrical and structural engineers and had applied for a state construction design release just a couple days before the January fire. The LaRosas are asking the city to award a permit needed for repairs.  

Johns has taken the matter under advisement and could issue a decision later this month.

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