The house at 357 Milledge Ave. was home to Sigma Pi fraternity, but it now sits empty, crumbling into weeds and gravel after having failed to meet Athens-Clarke County fire codes.

A sign is posted on the door warning visitors the house is unsafe to enter.

"It was a hazard to have people living there," said Hank Williams, senior fire prevention officer for the ACC Fire Department.

The home was inspected June 22, according to fire inspection documents, and members of the fraternity were instructed to move out that day, said Jared Cordova, president of Sigma Pi.

The fraternity has since put a new house under contract.

Sigma Pi's housing troubles come at a time when a fraternity house at the University of Mississippi recently caught fire.

Three Ole Miss students, including one from Georgia, died when their Alpha Tau Omega house caught fire at the end of August.


Accumulations of waste materials inside building

Gas can stored by the front door inside the house

North side of the building broken and boarded up

Window out and boarded up

House not properly wired for number of appliances used

Extension cords all over the house

Fire load in the storage room

Fire load in the back room

Smoke detectors hanging off the walls

No exit signs

Emergency lights out of order

Gas grill stored on the front porch

People living in the attic (an unauthorized area)

Exterior exit balcony unsafe

Open junction boxes

Lawn mower stored in the basement

Other Greek house violations:

Emergency lighting out: Kappa Delta, Alpha Gamma Delta

Exits blocked: Sigma Kappa

Fire extinguisher needed to be serviced: Phi Kappa Psi, Kappa Delta

Electrical light switch without a cover: Phi Kappa Psi

Electrical panel missing a cover: Pi Kappa Phi

The ATO house underwent a routine fire inspection Aug. 17 that revealed a lack of fire extinguishers in the kitchen area, paint stored in the basement and doors blocked with mattresses.

The ATO house had no sprinkler system.

To avoid similar hazardous situations here, fraternity and sorority houses not located on University property -- including most of those on Milledge Avenue -- are required to follow Athens-Clarke County guidelines.

Williams said most of the violations he finds are minor, like burned-out exit signs and emergency lights or empty fire extinguishers.

For minor violations, he said, the fire department typically allows occupants 30 days to correct the problem.

Cordova, a senior from Griffin, said Sigma Pi's landlord was responsible for most of the structural and electrical upkeep of the house and added that a fire code violation contributed to the fraternity's eviction.

Drew Cobb, Sigma Pi's landlord, did not want to comment on the terms of Sigma Pi's lease or allow The Red & Black to view a copy of the document.

According to ACC's Fire and Life Safety Inspection Report, the Sigma Pi house had a number of hazardous violations, including a gas can stored inside the house, smoke detectors hanging off the walls, people living in the attic and boarded-up windows.

Cordova said he thought the landlord was waiting to make repairs on the house because the lease was supposed to end in August.

Claudia Shamp, associate dean of Student Affairs, said fraternity and sorority houses have to pass code before students can move in.

"They are up to code because they are all occupied now," she said. "They have to be up to code, up to the Athens regulations. If there are deficiencies, they are determined by the fire safety inspector."

The houses are checked at least twice each year, Williams said.

Ben Bullock, president of Theta Chi fraternity stressed the importance of being careful with adhering to fire code.

"A lot of the houses are old, so everyone has to be extra careful," said Bullock, a senior from Atlanta.

Theta Chi is just one among several off-campus fraternities that are in the process of installing sprinkler systems to comply with a 2001 ACC ordinance that states all off-campus fraternity houses must be equipped with sprinkler systems by January 2006.

The Interfraternity Council requires all members to attend a fire safety seminar at the beginning of the semester.

Fraternities and sororities are encouraged to keep their houses up to code and form evacuation plans in case of an emergency.

Bullock said Theta Chi tries to have a fire drill once every few weeks.

"Everybody is pretty serious about it," he said. "Everyone follows the rules to a T."

Sigma Pi currently has a new residence under contract, Cordova said, but it will not be occupied until the building is renovated, up to code and sprinklers are installed. The house, located on North Milledge Avenue, would also need to undergo a change of use, he said.

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