Without Walls Fined $11,200 For Tampa Fire Code Violations

The Tampa Tribune/February 17, 2009

Tampa - Without Walls International Church racked up $11,200 in fines before fixing fire code violations in its sanctuary and administrative building.

Tampa's Code Enforcement Board gave Without Walls until Dec. 18 to make about 20 repairs to its two buildings and hire an inspector to check that fire alarms and sprinklers worked properly.

The church completed the repairs and the required inspections by Feb. 12, according to code enforcement officials.

Without Walls received daily fines of $100 per building, totaling $5,600 for each structure.

Diane Kaulave, the church's point person with the city, declined to comment. The fines remained unpaid today, according to city records.

Fire officials first inspected the buildings a year ago and found several items that needed repair or replacement, including emergency lighting, exit signs and fire extinguishers. Fire officials also required the church to get the alarms and sprinklers inspected to ensure they work properly.

None of the violations were a direct threat to public safety, fire officials said at the time.

Tampa's fire marshal tried to work with the church to fix the problems before taking problems to the code enforcement board, said Bill Wade, a Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman.

Fire officials prefer to work cooperatively with the building owner. When that doesn't work, "the fire marshal will use all code enforcement avenues open to him," Wade said.

Without Walls, once recognized as among the nation's fastest-growing churches, has struggled in the past couple years. Founders Randy and Paula White divorced and U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa launched an inquiry into whether the Whites abused the ministry's tax-exempt status to bankroll their lavish lifestyle.

In November, the Evangelical Christian Credit Union in California began foreclosure proceedings against the ministry and its Lakeland branch.

About a month later, the church moved its staff offices out of the administrative building into the sanctuary.

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