SILVER SPRING, Md. – FOX 5 has been digging for answers after several residents at the site of Thursday’s Silver Spring apartment explosion expressed concerns and frustration over the care of the buildings. Residents told FOX 5 complaints to the Friendly Garden Apartments’ management company and 311 often went nowhere.
In a Friday morning news conference, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich told reporters the apartments had a fire inspection done a little over a month ago and that a triennial inspection had in fact been completed in September 2021.
The triennial inspection is part of a newer county law passed after the fatal 2016 Flower Branch apartments explosion killed seven people. According to background on Bill 19-15, “the Director of DHCA must inspect each apartment complex and personal living quarters within each three-year period and may inspect it more often.”
Former County Council president Tom Hucker told FOX 5 on Thursday the complex had not been inspected since 2018. “For any property to go four years like this property did is a complete violation of law,” Hucker told FOX 5, claiming inspections were halted during the pandemic.
At a Friday morning news conference, County Executive March Elrich told reporters, “So these buildings were inspected by both for building code and fire safety. So I thought people might want to know that because it was asserted yesterday that, that was not the case. Clearly that’s the case.”
However, on the fire safety inspection, county permitting records show the Fire Code Compliance (FCC) permit for 2405 Lyttonsville Road, the building that exploded on Thursday, expired in 2019.
When FOX 5 asked the county’s Department of Permitting Services for clarity on the matter, Fire Code Compliance Manager Patsy Warnick confirmed only two of the six Friendly Garden apartment buildings had their FCC inspections completed last month: the leasing office and another. The other four buildings had inspection dates pending, including 2405 Lyttonsville Road.
Warnick explained to FOX 5 this inspection is of the common areas, where an inspector checks sprinkler systems (if the building has), checks the fire alarms and checks to make sure exits are safe.
Record found on Montgomery County’s DPS website
On the triennial inspection, Barry Hudson, Spokesperson for County Executive Marc Elrich, told FOX 5 via email:
“According to DCHA, a triennial inspection was conducted in 2018 and closed in July 2018. The results were that the property was in compliance property. The inspection set in 2021 was delayed due to covid and change of management. This inspection is set as of 3-1-22 for later this month.”
This statement contradicts with Elrich told reporters Friday morning.
FOX 5 asked for clarity on the response, to which Hudson confirmed there was in fact a triennial inspection done in September 2021. However, this was an inspection of the common areas of the apartment complex. Hudson told FOX 5 a separate triennial inspection that is supposed to be done inside the units was in fact delayed due to COVID19 and due to a change of management at the Friendly Garden apartments.
Document provided by County Executive Marc Elrich after Friday’s news conference
This means the last time the county’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs inspected inside the apartments of this Silver Spring apartment complex was in 2018 – going past the county’s three year requirement.
No one knows whether any of these inspections would have impacted or prevented the apartment explosion at the Friendly Garden Apartments. These inspections also do not cover inspections of the utility. Officials tell FOX 5 only the utility, in this case Washington Gas, has the authority to do so.
Fire Chief Scott Goldstein told reporters in a nearly 10-year period, only two gas leaks occurred at the Friendly Gardens apartment complex. Those gas leaks occurred in 2016 and 2017.
“It absolutely had to be addressed,” a displaced Friendly Garden resident texted FOX 5, after learning of the apartment inspection delays.