In New York City, space is in high demand and landlords readily exploit every opportunity to attract more tenants and increase rent prices. Some landlords have even gone so far as to illegally section off portions of an apartment to create additional living spaces that they then rent out as single units. The practice is not only illegal, but also extremely dangerous as these illegally partitioned units don’t comply with legal safety codes and often don’t allow tenants access to emergency exits.
It’s been nearly five years since a fire broke out in a two-story two-unit flat in Brooklyn. By the time firefighters were able to finally put the blaze out, one woman and four men were dead. Additionally a young girl, who was dropped out of the burning building’s window by her father, suffered serious head injuries which left her disabled.
Afterwards, angry firefighters said the fire should only have taken roughly one hour to put out. Instead it took approximately three hours as firefighters were forced to break through illegal walls that were erected by the landlord. While the building was coded for two apartments, the landlord created six apartments with 10 people living on the first floor and nine on the second.
The landlord, along with his wife and grown son were all charged with manslaughter. At a 2012 court hearing the landlord denied knowing about the illegal units. He was later charged with perjury as details emerged that he routinely went from room to room collecting rent and was in fact responsible for putting up the walls.
In what was heralded as a huge win by tenants’ rights advocates, last year the landlord, and his wife and son all pleaded guilty and were sentenced to service time behind bars as well as probation. Additionally, the family was ordered to pay the family of the girl who was dropped from the window $1 million in restitution.
Source: The New York Times, “Brooklyn Landlord Pleads Guilty to Negligent Homicide in 2010 Fire,” Andy Newman, Nov. 10, 2014
The New York Times, “Manslaughter Charges for Landlords in Brooklyn Fire That Killed 5,” Andy Newman and Mosi Secret, June 14, 2015