- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The Omaha City Council voted to bolster the city’s regulation and safety watch over boardinghouses in response to the deaths of two people in a south Omaha fire.

On Tuesday, the council approved an ordinance that will require licensing of boardinghouses as well as annual fees and regular inspections. Boardinghouses will be required to have working smoke alarms, two ways out of each sleeping room and have fire walls to slow the spread of flames.

City officials formulated the ordinance after a Dec. 23 fire that fatally injured two boardinghouse residents, Demetria Sanchez, 37, and Eddie Valentine, 27.

“It’s unfortunate that it took the tragic loss of life in south Omaha last holiday season to awaken the city to the extent of the problems,” Councilman Chris Jerram said at Tuesday’s council meeting.

The Omaha Fire Department said after the blaze that smoke detectors at the boardinghouse were not working and there wasn’t a fire exit in the basement, where Sanchez and Valentine had been residing.

In addition, the boardinghouse wasn’t required to have a certificate of occupancy - standard for other Omaha businesses - because it existed before a certificate became a requirement.

Jay Davis, city superintendent of permits and inspections, said he’s trying to fill four inspector positions and that his 2016 budget request includes a proposal for five new inspectors.

The new ordinance won’t apply to properties where landlords rent to three or fewer unrelated people.

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