By Karen Morfitt

DENVER (CBS4) – Denver fire officials shut down an artist collective in Denver’s River North neighborhood, citing numerous code violations.

Melissa Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Denver Fire Department, says inspectors went into the building known as Rhinoceropolis on Thursday night after receiving a tip regarding unsafe living conditions.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: YouTube)

“We did have some serious life safety hazards going on inside,” Taylor said.

The biggest issue, she says, was that five people were living in the warehouse-type space, despite it never being approved as a residential property.

Those residents were immediately ordered out after the surprise inspections found no smoke detectors, no sprinkler systems and makeshift wiring through the building.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“We all have friends and family. None of us wants to put anybody in bad situation. We get the consequences of what happened last night, but more significant would have been what happens in the event of an emergency,” Taylor said.

The building on Brighton Boulevard has been operating as a do-it-yourself venue since 2005, used both for gatherings like concerts but also a place for artists to grow — and in some cases live.

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Jamie Licko, a spokesperson for the RiNo Art District, calls the response by fire officials a misstep.

“By all accounts we want people to be safe, I just don’t understand why we can’t have a more thoughtful reasoned approach to do that to make sure that people are taken care of that people have a safe place to go to,” she said.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Until improvements are made, officials say the venue will remained closed.

“We don’t take decisions like this lightly. This is a very big decision. We never, ever want to displace residents if it’s at all possible. But paramount to that is an individual’s safety so we always want to make that our top priority so that’s why action was taken,” Taylor said.

The building owner did not return a call for comment and occupants that returned to the building Friday morning to collect their belongings did not want to comment.

A number of people, though, have raised issue about the action on social media, some raising concerns that the venue passed inspections as recently as July.

Denver fire officials acknowledged the visit but say the building was likely inspected as a commercial property at the time and that the fact that it was being used as an occupancy fell through the cracks.

In response, fire officials say they’ll be more vigilant during inspections and plan to look at similarly used properties in Denver.

Karen Morfitt Joined the CBS4 team as a reporter in 2013. She covers a variety of stories in and around metro Denver. Connect with her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @karenmorfitt or email her tips.

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