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Fire Trap Fix: 7 On Your Side Responds to an Urgent Call for Action

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Sometimes it seems impossible to get your cable company, your landlord, or your ex-wife to respond to you.

Vania Edwards approached 7 On Your Side with this assumption. She told us that we wouldn’t listen to her unless her building burned down first.

But within an hour of her call to 7 On Your Side’s Call for Action hotline, we met her outside Capital Storage on the corner of 3rd and N Streets, Northeast. The building sits across the street from the popular charter school, Two Rivers, and around the corner from the renovated historic Uline Arena, the site of the Beatles’ first concert in the U.S.

“Tell me why you are wearing (surgical) masks?” asked 7 On Your Side Consumer Investigator Kimberly Suiters.

“I would like you to come follow me and find out,” said Edwards.

She walked up one story in the dark old building which houses approximately 1,000 storage spaces. The building was recently purchased by Foulger-Pratt and will likely be developed into a mixed-use property, following in the footsteps of the rest of the rapidly redeveloping NoMa neighborhood. Tenants were told to remove their belongings before June 8th, when the storage facility will close.

“I can’t tell you what that smell is, but I’ve never smelled anything like it in my life,” said Edwards.

Edwards walked us by piles of old clothes, broken furniture and trash.

“Look at all this stuff,” Edwards added in disgust. “What happens if someone accidentally drops a match?”

While it was all undoubtedly gross, we weren’t sure it was truly dangerous. 7 On Your Side called DC Fire and EMS to report it to their fire safety inspection office. They sent out an inspector within the hour. He found five violations: Blocked exits, combustibles in hallways, fire extinguishers expired, damaged fire alarms, and exit signs not functioning. Blocked exits are considered a major violation.

“It’s potentially dangerous,” said Vito Maggiolo, spokesman for DC EMS and Fire. “Blocked exits when you are trying to escape, combustibles in hallway that can be easily ignited, and fire extinguishers that are expired. They’re useless if someone tried to use them.”

Here’s the thing: none of it will matter come June 9th, when the facility closes and construction begins shortly thereafter. But it matters to some tenants now.

“They’re not making it a safe environment to be in to get our items out,” said Edwards.

Nancy Lucas agreed.

“We were shocked,” Lucas said, commenting on the recent deterioration of conditions. She rented storage space after her brother died and said the building used to be a clean place to store belongings that matter to their family.

“There’s trash all around, no maintenance, you’re pretty much on your own.”

The property manager, who is helping tenants, told 7 On Your Side, the mess, which may include human feces, is not the fault of the storage facility.

“We have a cleaning company coming now, and we have security now,” she said. “These are the tenants who cleaned the units out and left it like that.”

The new owners of the building are not dismissing concerns raised by 7 On Your Side. Although Foulger-Pratt declined an interview, a public relations representative gave us the following statement:

“The safety and convenience of our customers is of paramount importance to us. We moved quickly to resolve issues as they came to our attention and are committed to working vigilantly to ensure they do not arise again. Capitol Self Storage is slated to close on June 8th.”

Emotions are mixed in with this move. Some tenants have rented space here for decades. Others, like Lucas, needed to store their lost loved ones’ keepsakes. And some tenants are homeless. They told us that Capital Storage provided a cheap, safe place to store their things.

“I’ve been using this for many years and it was a blessing for me,” a homeless man named Nicholas told us as he pushed his overloaded cart toward a dumpster in the alley.

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