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Illegal Rooms / Dividers

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Illegal Rooms / Dividers

Postby lofter1 » Thu Mar 30, 2006 12:17 pm

A warning to all who add "air walls" and other divisions to create new rooms within apartments:

From NY 1 ( http://www.ny1.com/ny1/content/index.jsp?stid=1&aid=58210# )...

Landlord, Two Tenants Hit With Charges In "Black Sunday" Lawsuit

March 30, 2006

The landlord and two tenants of the Bronx apartment building where two firefighters were forced to jump to their death in January 2005 were hit with manslaughter charges Wednesday.

The landlord of the building, Caesar Rios, and two of its tenants, Caridad Coste and Rafael Castillo, have been charged with manslaughter in the second degree, criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment.

FDNY Firefighter John Bellew and Lieutenant Curtis Meyran were killed battling the fire. They had to jump from the top floor of the building.

Four other firefighters were severely injured in the blaze.

The Bronx District Attorney says the building had illegal walls which blocked the firefighters inside the building.

The most serious charge of manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
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Re: Illegal Rooms / Dividers

Postby Cranky Tenant » Thu Mar 30, 2006 3:18 pm

And from The New York Times

3 Indicted in Deaths of 2 Firefighters Who Jumped

Published: March 30, 2006
The former owner of a Bronx building and two of his tenants have been indicted in the deaths of two firefighters whose efforts to battle a blaze in the building last year were hampered by a warren of illegally constructed rooms and walls, the authorities said.

On Jan. 23, 2005, Lt. Curtis Meyran and Firefighter John G. Bellew leaped to their deaths from a fourth-floor window of the building at 236 East 178th Street when they could not find the fire escape. Four other firefighters were critically injured that morning when they, too, had to jump from the apartment in an attempt to flee the searing heat and smoke. Investigators determined that the fire was sparked by an overloaded extension cord that powered the illegally built rooms.

The deaths prompted an internal investigation by the Fire Department and led to a new policy that gives firefighters safety ropes they can use to rappel from buildings. In a report issued in September, investigators said that frozen hydrants, nonfunctioning hoses and poor communication among those battling the fire might have contributed to the deaths and injuries.

But yesterday, in unsealing an indictment against one of the tenants, the Bronx district attorney, Robert T. Johnson, focused on plasterboard partition walls in two apartments that investigators say blocked firefighters' access to the fire escape and forced the six men to jump. Investigators also determined that the jerry-built rooms helped accelerate the spread of the fire throughout the five-story building.

"We all know that firefighting is dangerous enough, but it should not be made more dangerous when people, motivated by greed, illegally carve up apartments and share extension cords," Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said. "This kind of indictment sends an important message out to tenants and landlords across the city."

On Tuesday, law enforcement officials arrested Rafael Castillo, a 55-year-old cabdriver, and charged him with two counts of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment. They said that Mr. Castillo, who lived with his family in the third-floor apartment where the fire started, had added two bedrooms to his three-bedroom rental apartment, and rented them out. Mr. Castillo, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, faces up to 15 years in prison.

The fire spread to the fourth-floor apartment of Caridad Coste, who the authorities said had paid a worker to build extra rooms. The firefighters jumped from her apartment. Officials said they were coordinating the surrender today of Ms. Coste, 55, and the building's former owner, Cesar Rios, 49, who the authorities say was aware of the illegal construction.

Neither Ms. Coste nor Mr. Rios could be reached for comment yesterday.

Mr. Rios sold the building in 2003. A limited liability corporation that now owns the building has also been indicted. A woman listed in state records as the contact for the corporation, Lesley O'Hara, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Samuel M. Braverman, a court-appointed lawyer who is representing Mr. Castillo, said he believed the charges against his client were overly harsh. "To charge him with such crimes seems to me in many ways to be an enormous stretch," Mr. Braverman said. "If these firemen had ropes, my client would not be in jail right now."

He said that Mr. Castillo, who supports three children and currently lives in a single-room-occupancy hotel, would be unable to make the $250,000 bail that was set yesterday by Judge Harold Adler.

Law enforcement officials and housing experts said they could not recall a similar case in which tenants who made unsanctioned alterations to their apartments were charged in the death of others. Capt. Peter L. Gorman, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, said he hoped the charges would persuade people that making unauthorized changes to private homes and apartment buildings could have deadly consequences.

"People think that violating building codes is no big deal, but it can lead to the loss of life," Captain Gorman said. "It's like driving while under the influence: if you make it home safely, fine, but if you kill three people on the way, that's a different matter."

Frank Ricci, the director of government affairs for the Rent Stabilization Association, said that landlords were often powerless to stop tenants from making changes to their apartments. Even when a building owner takes a tenant to court, housing court judges can only order the restoration of the apartment to its original condition.

Some residents in the East Tremont section of the Bronx, where the fire occurred, expressed sympathy for Mr. Castillo, saying he was only doing what so many struggling immigrants do to make their lives a bit easier. "As long as there are immigrants and rents are as high as they are, people will chop up apartments," said George Medero, who lives next door to the burned building. "This is a fact of life in New York City."

Matthew Sweeney contributed reporting for this article.
I'm a cranky tenant NOT a cranky lawyer.
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Re: Illegal Rooms / Dividers

Postby Emeraldstar » Fri Mar 31, 2006 12:11 am

:p to DOB & HPD that also see this when inspecting for a different issue.
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Re: Illegal Rooms / Dividers

Postby jim berg » Fri Mar 31, 2006 3:20 am

A landlord AND the tenants held liable.The lawyer typically deflects clients' responsibility by pointing out the firemen should have had ropes.Maybe so,but that kind of logic would exonerate a drunk driver if his victims(the firemen) didn't have seat belts.
Having said that,this still seems like an opportunity for landlords to have an excuse for unecessary harassment.
Even though landlord was as liable as the tenants in this case,where is the indignation over the rampant building code violations in this city? What about the politics that makes it so difficult for tenants to hold their landlords to those standards?

jim berg
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Re: Illegal Rooms / Dividers

Postby lofter1 » Fri Mar 31, 2006 11:28 am

I was recently in an apartment in a very large up-scale complex where a room had been added by the construction of a "temporary" wall. The tenants (renters) said that it was done with complete knowledge of building management -- in fact, it is reuqired by mgmt of that complex that tenants have work performed by a single company OK'd by building mgmt.

This goes on all over the city. Onwers / Mgmt know they can get additional tenants into an apartment and therefore collect higher rents.
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Re: Illegal Rooms / Dividers

Postby cestmoi123 » Fri Mar 31, 2006 5:08 pm

Not all dividers are illegal, depends on the bldg. If you're looking at an apartment in a fireproof high-rise, then things change quite a bit, since those apartments have different egress rules anyway, esp. if the building has sprinklers.

A lot of people put up walls to reduce their living costs, particularly in Junior 4s (convert to 2-bed).

From what you mentioned (only one vendor) I'm betting you were in Normandie Court, which is a hub of conversion, given the market they cater to (recently out of college, earning decent but not great money, want to be in Manhattan).

Re: Illegal Rooms / Dividers

Postby Emeraldstar » Sat Apr 01, 2006 2:02 am

Some logic expressed by a fellow tenant re: divisions observed in their bld. "If an ll was going to harass a tenant out would they bother the apt full of numerous incomes or the tenants with one documented source of income?" It was a sobering thought. :eek:
A shared story: I questioned a Con Ed rep after meter was checked due to increased bills and was informed there is a way in apt. blds. to "hook in on elect" from apt. to apt. but the ll would have to be notified "prior" to inspection. Now I ask you, do you think this would be a "prior" warning.
This division situation in NYC aside from the legal divisions is a growing problem. It involves utilities, cable issues, warrenty of habitability issues,laundry facilities issues, trash/garbage disposial issues, fire/safety issues, documented/undocumented issues, & the list could go on. Bottom line is how would one know, what could one do and who would help change it? :confused:
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Re: Illegal Rooms / Dividers

Postby Emeraldstar » Sun Apr 02, 2006 12:15 am

Hi Phil On the Job
Wish you would share your insight :)
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