Tragic fire led to closing dozens of illegal hostels in Rīga

Following the April 28 tragic fire that claimed the lives of nine people in an illegally run hostel in Rīga, Merķeļa Street 8, a total of more than 20 illegal hostels have been closed in the city, Latvian Television reported October 28.

Immediately after the tragic fire accident, the responsible authorities, including the Riga City construction authority, were stirring. Over the last six months, 70 'suspicious' accommodation establishments were inspected by the authority. In half of them, various breaches of construction rules were identified.

Owners of 24 objects have been ordered to cease the operation of hostels installed in inappropriate spaces. In four cases, the activity was legalized as a result of the inspection. 

The fact that the illegal hostels were finally closed was also confirmed by residents surveyed by several houses. At the same time, people wondered why the actions of the responsible authorities followed only after the tragedy that claimed the lives of nine people.

"The feeling was that there was no rights for the residents and the indifference by officials was huge. [..] The residents called and wrote complaints to the building authority several times. It imposed penalties and that was that. On complaints that the hostel worked without permission, that some of the occupants were drug addicts and drunks, [..] that there were syringes in the courtyard, the building board replied, we can't do anything,” said a resident who wanted anonymity.

In the information report prepared by the Ministry of Economics (EM), which was produced in relation to the fire accident on 28 April, the Riga city construction authority - the body responsible for monitoring the operation of buildings - was also evaluated poorly. As of September 1, the authority has been shut down and its functions have been taken over by the City Development Department.

The information report contains a number of proposals for regulatory changes. For example, it is proposed to decide on the right of officials of the State Fire and Rescue Service (VUGD) to enter the facility with force for fire safety inspection. This issue is scheduled to be addressed by November 2023, but decisions are expected next year on the issue of stricter fire-safety requirements for spaces used to provide services, as well as improvements in the regulation of the tourism industry to eradicate illegal services.

Meanwhile, in the criminal proceedings launched following the tragic event, investigations will continue. The reason for the fire has not yet been established. Of the initially detained six suspects, there are currently two. Both persons are under police supervision and are prohibited from leaving the country, the State Police reported.

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