New Brunswick

Fire marshal slams doors shut on Dorchester jail turned Airbnb

A fire marshal's order has slammed the doors shut on a former jail turned Airbnb in southeastern New Brunswick. 

Order says no one from the public can stay in former jail that owner turned into a business

An order issued Friday by a fire marshal calls for no one from the general public to enter the former Dorchester jail. (Bill Steele/Facebook)

A fire marshal's order has slammed the doors shut on a former jail turned Airbnb in southeastern New Brunswick. 

Bill Steele, who owns the 15-cell former jail in Dorchester, said he doesn't plan to leave the building where he lives. 

"I am absolutely not leaving this place," Steele said Friday. "They're going to have to drag me out of here … I'm going to barricade myself in here."

A copy of the order Steele posted on Facebook dated July 12 says the building can't be used for sleeping accommodations or as a place of assembly. It restricts occupancy to construction crews. The order doesn't explicitly say why it was issued.

The order points to two sections of the Fire Prevention Act related to filing plans for converting buildings with the fire marshal for review. It also points to a section on fire hazards in sleeping accommodations or places of assembly. 

Steele said in an interview the fire alarm and sprinkler system don't work. He said the building does have working smoke detectors.

"I didn't build this place, it's been a jail for 150 years," Steele said. "They want the fire sprinkler system back on now and all this stuff."

Bill Steele, who purchased the former Dorchester jail in 2017 and has rented out cells on Airbnb, says the fire marshal has ordered the building closed to the public. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

The fire marshal who signed the order declined to comment Friday afternoon. 

Geoffrey Downey, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, said in an emailed statement that the Office of the Fire Marshal can inspect places of assembly or accommodation to ensure compliance with applicable codes and standards.

"When an inspection reveals non-compliance that risks the safety of occupants in the event of fire, ‎an order may be issued limiting occupancy until compliance is achieved," Downey said.

"In all such cases, the building owner is provided specifics as to what is required to achieve compliance."

The former jail was built in the 1800s and was the site of the province's last double hanging. (Submitted/Bill Steele)

Steele purchased the former jail in the Village of Dorchester, south of Moncton, for $150,000 in 2017. 

The two-storey brick building was built in the early 1800s. It was the site of New Brunswick's last double hanging in 1936. The jail closed more than 20 years ago. 

Soon after purchasing the property, Steele began renting cells on the website Airbnb for $34 per night.

The two-metre by three-metre cell inside the former jail that Steele rented on Airbnb. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

He's cancelled Airbnb bookings for the next month including those of people expected to stay Friday evening. He worries it will cripple his business.

In 2017, Steele told CBC News the building still had its original features, including a gym and yard surrounded by a chain-link fence. 

"It's all original," he said of the fixtures that include the stone blocks separating the cells, steel doors, and windows.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.