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Terrible Harlem fire steals life from 6 in NYCHA building

Terrible Harlem fire steals life from 6 in NYCHA building

May 8, 2019 was a very sad day for residents of 2441 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard at 142nd Street, Harlem as a fire incident claimed the lives of 6. The building is part of the Frederick E. Samuel Houses operated by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). The fire incident was said to have started in apartment 5G of the 109-year old building. It was only discovered by neighbors after it had spread far through the apartment.

Although the Fire Department sent 100 firefighters to the site of the blaze, it was a little too late. By the time firefighters were able to breach the inferno, they found the six victims, including 4 children, unconscious. According to neighbors, no one really saw or heard the fire. The first indicator that things were wrong was the smell of smoke that slowly permeated the building. By the time they could hear sounds of the blaze, the fire had already progressed far. It had cut off any possible routes to escape the apartment.

Fire commissioner, Daniel Nigro, said that when the firefighters arrived at the fifth floor apartment, “the fire met them at the front door”. Apparently, the fire had started from the kitchen and spread through the apartment. This, combined with the layout of the building, meant that the family would be trapped. The kitchen was closest to the front door of the apartment. So when the fire started, it has spread towards the bedrooms opposite, where the victims were asleep. The fire cut off their route to the front door and kept them from getting to the windows that were on the fire escape.

The family in the apartment, Ms. Pollidore, aged 45 and her four children, had moved to the apartment in 2013. Her children, Nakyra, aged 11; Andre; aged 8; Brook-Lynn, aged 6 and Elijah, aged 3 all died in the fire incident. The sixth victim was Matt Abdularaph. We are representing the family in this horrific tragedy and determined to get justice. We are awaiting the fire marshals' final report. Our heart goes out to the family of the victims.

There were no smoke detector alarms

Firefighters did not hear smoke detector alarms as they worked their way through the apartment. This was according to Mr Nigro. Although, the interim chairwoman of the NYCHA mentioned that the apartment had a smoke and carbon-monoxide alarm. This was in a later briefing with the mayor and Mr Nigro. According to her, the alarm was installed in June 2017 and tested, January 2019. The building has four open violations for a failure to conduct safety inspections from 2016.

The development failed a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) inspection in February 2017. The Department runs the rule over public housing authorities in the US. It regularly inspects subsidized housing developments to ensure that they are safe. Part of the inspection routine involves checking for smoke detectors. It also covers inspection for safety and health hazards like mold and peeling paint. The housing development failed the inspection. It scored a 59 on the 100-point scale, one short of the 60 required to pass.

The inspection revealed many health and safety deficiencies in 26 units of the 21 buildings visited. These included two instances of missing or faulty smoke detectors. Other issues found include rotting kitchen sinks and damaged bathroom sinks. There were also broken locks, vermin, peeling paint and mold.

Previous action against NYCHA for code violations

Issues have earlier been raised against the NYCHA for its management of its public housing buildings. In June 2018, the housing authority was dragged to court by the US Attorney for neglecting to maintain its public housing developments. The complaint by the US Attorney’s Office read that “the problems at NYCHA reflect management dysfunction and organizational failure, including a culture where spin is often rewarded and accountability often does not exist”.

New York City was forced to settled the case for $2 billion. Under the agreement, it would pay $1 billion upfront and $200 million annually. The settlement, was reached between the NYCHA, the HUD and New York City. It was directed to help fix damage that had accumulated over the years. These included lead paint accumulation, damaged elevators and a significant rodent problem. The complaints and claims following the allegations indicated a situation of neglect about the state of the buildings managed by the NYCHA.

Responsibilities of property management agencies

Under New York law, property owners or management agencies have duties towards tenants. They are expected to maintain their property in safe, healthy and hazard-free conditions. Even in a rental property, they have the obligation to ensure that common areas are safe and injury free. This duty extends to keeping the property safe at all times. This should be in compliance with the relevant health and safety regulations. Regular inspections should be carried out on the building safety systems, such as smoke detectors and fire escapes. Identified problems must also be immediately fixed.

Failing to carry out these duties, may constitute an administrative offense. But where the uncorrected hazards lead to injury or property damage, injured persons have the right to sue for compensation. In many instances, fault may also be attributed to the inspectors. These include instances such as a fire incident. If a building is inspected but is passed okay despite violations of the code, an injured person may have remedy against the inspectors. This would be even more so if a violation was flagged but no citation given.This possibility of civil suits for neglect leading to injury helps keep management authorities on their toes. It provides crucial compensation to injured individuals who will be facing significant bills. It will also help to remind property owners of their duty to keep tenants safe.

Investigators search the site of a fire in Harlem that killed six people Wednesday morning, police said. Photo Credit: Marcus Santos

Investigators search the site of a fire in Harlem that killed six people Wednesday morning, police said. Photo Credit: Marcus Santos


You may have a legitimate claim

If you or any of your loved ones have been injured in a New York apartment building or premises liability incident, you may have the right to sue. If the damage was caused by a neglect to install accepted safety or health standards, the law allows you file a lawsuit and claim compensation. If the property neglect or injury caused is quite serious, you may even be able to force the property owner to act responsibly. This way, you will also help prevent similar injury from happening to others.

If you have been injured due to the neglect of your landlord or the building management agency, you should contact a lawyer immediately. They will listen to your story and help you determine if you have a legitimate claim for compensation. At Oshan and Associates, we have several years’ experience in preparing and trying premises liability cases. We help victims of gross neglect by property owners recover fair compensation. Our experience in this area has allowed us help several clients with cases like yours recover the compensation they deserve. If you have been injured in a premises liability incident, contact us. We will review your case and help you build a winning claim. To take advantage of our free case review, call us at 206-355-3880 to book a no-obligation appointment today.

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