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Posted: May 2, 2013 8:01 p.m.

House fire reveals corporate office

The Monticello Street house that caught fire Tuesday night had one room badly damaged, but, in addition to repairs, the building will need to be repurposed as it violated local city ordinances by containing multiple offices for executives of a local phone company.

The house at 4113 Monticello Street was being used as the work offices for multiple employees of Telrite, a local company that provides long-distance and wireless phone services; however, the property is in Covington’s Neighborhood Residential 1 zoning, which is designed for single-family residences and does not generally allow for official commercial uses.

The owners thought they were allowed to have offices in the building because it was not open to the public and didn’t house any inventory or deal with shipping and receiving; however, Covington senior planner Scott Gaither said the scope of office operation that was occurring was not allowed.

If a person or persons lived in the house — no one does currently, according to city officials and the company’s attorney — then they could work from home for Telrite without any sort of documentation or license as an informal home office, Gaither said.

This would be the same for any business that has a physical commercial location and employees who work from their own home. However, the only people who can work at an informal home office are the residents of the home.

Since no one used 4113 Monticello Street as a primary residence, no one is allowed to use it as a business office, Gaither said.

Telrite attorney Michael Geoffroy said the residence is still a house, though no one lived there at the time, and said the employees have also been respectful of the neighbors. He said the home was simply used for executive offices, and that company officials are working with the city to rectify the situation. Most likely, one Telrite employee will live in and work from the house, Geoffroy said.

Telrite has its official offices in Lochridge Industrial Park at 14230 Lochridge Boulevard.

The fire was related to roofing work being done by the company, something that had nothing to do with the use of the building, Geoffroy said.

Covington Assistant Fire Marshal Capt. Tony Smith said roofers were using roll roofing, which must be heated so it can be adhered to a building. Smith said the roofers had left for the evening, and a fire later developed in the roof.

A passerby called in the fire pretty quickly at 7:38 p.m., so fire trucks were able to limit the damage to one interior room and the roof overhang on the back of the house, in addition to water and smoke damage. In a more modern house, the damage would cost less to repair, but Smith estimated the damage at around $150,000, given the age, construction and style of the house, which was built in 1968, according to the Newton County Tax Assessor’s website.

Geoffroy said city officials will come out next week to visit and inspect the house.

The house is owned Pinetucky of Georgia, LLC, according to the Newton County Tax Assessor’s website; Geoffroy is the registered agent for Pinetucky. The property is valued at $266,600, according to the tax assessor’s website, and was purchased in 2008 from Stratacom, which is no longer an active company according to the secretary of state’s office; Stratacom also lists Geoffroy as an officer and Reginald McFarland as CEO. McFarland is also CEO of Telrite.

Telrite has a suite of businesses, according to Geoffroy, including being a traditional long-distance telephone service provider and a wireless telephone service provider. Related company PureTalk USA is the retail wireless business that competes against Verizon and AT&T.

The company also offers wireless service through the federally-subsidized Lifeline program, which provides telephone discounts to eligible low-income consumers to provide them with opportunities and connect them to 911, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

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