As a result, the south Minneapolis property was not inspected for fire hazards.
The south Minneapolis house where a woman died in a fire last week did not have an inspection for fire hazards because it wasn't a licensed rental property, a city spokesman said Friday.
Records show that the house located at 2812 1st Av. S. never had a rental license from the city, although Jenny Soumountha Syonesa and her family had been renting the house for about two years, according Joel Himmel, a family friend.
Syonesa, 45, died July 28 when a fire broke out before dawn on the porch and spread to the rest of the house. Family members say she was overcome while trying to rescue others.
City officials found out that the house was being rented out earlier this year and took a number of steps to bring the house into compliance, starting with having the owner obtain a rental license, said city spokesman Matt Laible. Records list the owner as Xayasack "Cy" Ratsamy of Minneapolis.
As part of its rental licensing program, the city inspects the property to make sure it's meeting fire and building codes.
"That's one reason it's important the property be properly licensed as rental so the city is able to get inside and do inspections," said Laible, who estimated that each year there are about 900 properties whose owners attempt to rent them out without a license.
Laible said the city has an "escalating process" to bring property owners into compliance. In this case, the city fined the owner $500 and issued him a citation.
The owner claimed the city was mistaken and that the house was owner-occupied, and appealed the decision, Laible said. The hearing officer upheld the fine and issued a warning, telling him to either get a rental license or vacate the property. At the time of the fire, the owner had done neither, Laible said. The next step would have been a $1,000 fine and to placard the property, forcing the tenants to leave within 30 days, he said.
Ratsamy is the owner of the New Orient Market, which is located down the street. A call to Ratsamy was referred to his lawyer, who could not be reached Friday.
Records show the house was built in 1900. The city issued the property a nuisance violation in 2009 for tires on the boulevard and in 2011 for tall grass and weeds.
Fire investigators could not determine how the fire started.
Those close to Syonesa said she died last Saturday trying to save her two-year-old grandson, Gabriel. She escaped with her 14-year-old daughter and husband but went back in to save Gabriel and his mother. Fire crews later rescued them from a third-floor window.
Relatives remember Syonesa as a selfless, friendly person. She moved to the United States from Laos at least 30 years ago, according to Rasmina Syonesa, her sister-in-law. She worked as a beauty school instructor and had a salon in her home. She and her husband regularly hosted fundraisers to support the Laotian community.
"She always made the day better when she was around," Rasmina Syonesa said.
The family held a funeral Thursday at Washburn-McReavy Crystal Lake Funeral Chapel in north Minneapolis. They have set up a trust in her name at Wells Fargo bank. Rasmina Syonesa said funds will help pay hospital costs for the family. Gabriel is still in the hospital, where he's being treated for smoke inhalation.
Masako Hirsch • 612-673-4263