Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Family sues Section 8 landlord in fatal Tampa fire

TAMPA — Six months after an annual inspection discovered no working smoke detectors in Terrence McGriff's Section 8 house, a fire killed McGriff.

When firefighters arrived, he was passed out 3 feet from the door. And once again, the smoke detectors were not working, the Tampa Fire Marshal's Office discovered.

Smoke detectors are required in Tampa's Section 8 homes. Firefighters say they save lives. So why weren't McGriff's working?

It's the central question in a mystery playing out in civil court.

• • •

On Oct. 31, an inspector visited the peach-colored house in East Tampa and found a laundry list of problems.

Two stove burners were not working. Security bars blocked potential window exits. Both of the home's smoke detectors were not working.

By December, the landlord had fixed most of the problems — including the smoke detectors. But one burner still did not work. Because of that, the Tampa Housing Authority stopped its monthly $587 contributions to McGriff's rent. A month later, the agency terminated McGriff, 30, from the program because the stove burner was still not fixed.

But at last check on Dec. 11, the smoke detectors were working.

Anita McGriff denies that. She told the Tampa Bay Times the landlord never replaced the smoke detectors. She said she and her son tried calling the landlord and never heard back.

This month, she filed a lawsuit against KRRS Properties and 4M Property Management. A lawyer from Morgan & Morgan's Orlando office is representing her.

According to the lawsuit, the landlord and property manager should have known there were no working smoke detectors when the fire broke out April 16.

In Tampa, qualified homeowners can rent properties to Section 8 recipients through the Tampa Housing Authority.

One of the requirements is that the home is inspected before anyone moves in. The homes are then inspected every 12 months.

McGriff, who is originally from New York, had lived in the home at 8423 N 16th St. since March 2010. It was valued at $20,000. He paid $95 in rent each month, and the Housing Authority paid the rest.

The little stucco home had two smoke detectors, records show — one inside a bedroom, one outside.

No one can say with certainty that if they had been working, they would have saved McGriff's life.

This is what authorities do know:

At about 6 a.m. on April 16, an unattended pot on the stove sparked a fire.

Smoke poured from the house, and a neighbor called 911. When firefighters arrived, they found McGriff unconscious and without a pulse.

Paramedics brought him back, but he continued to decline until doctors declared him dead the next day. According to the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office, the soot- and smoke-filled air caused his death.

Three dogs died, too.

If anything in the house breaks down between inspections, the tenant is responsible for notifying the landlord or property manager, said Margaret Jones, the director of Assisted Housing and Section 8.

Anita McGriff said she and her son tried.

Messages a reporter left with KRRS Properties and 4M Property Management were unreturned. The Housing Authority does not know why the smoke detector repeatedly stopped working. But the agency is not surprised.

It is a common issue.

For whatever reason, Section 8 inspectors often find the batteries removed from smoke detectors, Jones said.

"It happens all the time," said Jones, who used to inspect Section 8 homes.

It was a pet peeve of hers — something she found especially irksome when children lived in the home.

"When it comes to a fire," she said, "it's your last line of defense."

Jones said it was especially common to find the batteries gone around Christmas time, when children would received battery-operated toys. Jones repeatedly lectured families about the importance of smoke detectors.

She can't say if that happened in McGriff's case, and he cannot answer that question himself.

Instead, it will be up to lawyers — maybe a judge or jury — to decide who, if anyone, was negligent.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.

Family sues Section 8 landlord in fatal Tampa fire 07/27/13 [Last modified: Saturday, July 27, 2013 11:10pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Lightning edges Red Wings on road

    Lightning Strikes

    DETROIT — The digs were different, the Lightning seeing the masterfully-done new Little Caesar's Arena for the first time.

    Lightning center/Red Wings’ killer Tyler Johnson gets past defenseman Trevor Daley on his way to the first goal of the game.
  2. Armwood pulls away to defeat Plant 27-7, remain undefeated


    SEFFNER — First-year Armwood coach Evan Davis pulled out all the stops to get his team psyched for Monday's annual grudge match against Plant.

    Armwood defensive end Malcolm Lamar (97) gets fired up before the start of the game between Plant High School Panthers and the Armwood High School Hawks in Suffer, Fla. on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017.
  3. Clearwater police: Car thief dead after owner fires gun


    CLEARWATER — One man is dead after the owner of a car fired shots at the thieves who were stealing it Monday night, police said.

  4. Iraqi forces sweep into Kirkuk, checking Kurdish independence drive


    KIRKUK, Iraq — After weeks of threats and posturing, the Iraqi government began a military assault Monday to curb the independence drive by the nation's Kurdish minority, wresting oil fields and a contested city from separatists pushing to break away from Iraq.

    Iraqi security forces patrol Monday in Tuz Khormato, about 45 miles south of Kirkuk, a disputed city that the government seized in response to last month’s Kurdish vote for independence.
  5. Trump and McConnell strive for unity amid rising tensions


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, tried to convey a sense of harmony Monday after months of private feuding that threatened to undermine their party's legislative push in the coming weeks to enact a sweeping tax cut.

    President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell field questions Monday in the Rose Garden of the White House. “We have been friends for a long time,” Trump said.