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Codes exist for a reason

Fire officials’ action to shut down an illegal boarding house last week has generated a predictable backlash on social media from those who say it is a symptom of the lack of affordable housing in Ashland and the displaced tenants chose to live there. That’s beside the point.

Yes, Ashland lacks sufficient affordable housing for restaurant workers, students and others of modest means. That doesn’t make it OK to risk tenants’ lives by packing up to 18 people into a three-bedroom house at rents that, while they may be affordable, are too high for the accommodations provided.

Occupancy rules and fire codes exist for a reason: to protect the public against substandard accommodations that threaten not only the people who live there but neighbors as well.

Former tenants of the single-family house on Elkader Street reported paying $400 to $450 for a tiny basement room, and said other rooms went for $550 to $750 a month depending on whether the room had windows.

Renting five bedrooms in a basement and putting 14-18 adults in a three-bedroom house is an invitation for disaster if a fire should break out. And the fact that renters are desperate enough to pay that much for cramped quarters with inadequate bathroom and kitchen facilities is not an excuse for a landlord to take advantage of those people for profit.

The owner and the alleged operator of the house violated a deferred plea agreement they signed in August, city officials say. If that’s true, they don’t deserve any further leniency.