NYC Tenants Complained of Lack of Heat Ahead of Deadly Fire
(Bloomberg) -- Tenants of the Bronx apartment building where a deadly fire broke out Sunday had complained about lack of heat, a broken radiator and a door that didn’t close properly in the months before the blaze, city records show.
The fire appeared to have come from a malfunctioning space heater in an apartment, where residents fled without closing the door, city officials said.
New York Mayor Eric Adams said the city has opened an investigation into the Bronx apartment building. In addition to looking into the cause of the fire and how it spread so quickly, he said the city would investigate whether self-closing doors were properly functioning.
The probe will also touch on complaints by some residents that smoke alarms went off frequently, leading some to stay in their units because they didn’t know it was a real fire, Adams said.
“This is a wakeup call for all of our buildings,” Adams said in a television interview Monday, noting the fire was the deadliest in the city since the Happy Land blaze in 1990 -- also in the Bronx -- that killed 87 people.
Adams said Monday that 17 people had died in the fire, including 8 children. City officials had previously said there were 19 total fatalities. Several other people suffered injuries.
Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the building had self-closing doors but that the mechanism in the unit where the fire occurred “wasn’t functioning as it should.” There is timeline for the completion of the investigation, according to Adams.
City officials have said the heat was working in the building on Sunday.
The apartment building at 333 E. 181st St. is owned by Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC after being purchased by the investor group two years ago. The consortium includes LIHC Investment Group, Belveron Partners and Camber Property Group, which was co-founded by Rick Gropper and Andrew Moelis.
“We are devastated by the unimaginable loss of life caused by this profound tragedy. We are cooperating fully with the Fire Department and other city agencies as they investigate its cause, and we are doing all we can to assist our resident,” Kelly Magee, a representative for the owners, said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives or were injured, and we are here to support them as we recover from this horrific fire.”
Magee added that the doors in the building were all self-closing, as required.
Gropper was a member of Adams’ transition team for housing issues, while Moelis is the son of Ron Moelis, a developer of affordable housing and donor to Democrats.
An investment fund controlled by an affiliate of Ron Moelis’s L&M Development Partners is among the property’s owners, mortgage records show.
Like many apartment buildings of its vintage, the Bronx property, built in 1972, has received several complaints from residents, records filed with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development show.
Residents of the 19-story tower filed at least 14 complaints last year, ranging from mice and roach infestations to broken pipes and exposed wiring, according to a department database.
Last year, at least three different tenants filed complaints relating to lack of heat; one complained about a broken ventilation system and another said their door did not automatically close, the database said. There were also several complaints about pests.
The complaints have all been cured, but still show as open on HPD’s system because they have not been administratively closed out, according to Magee.
A handful of heat complaints in a building of that size does not provide much insight into the building’s conditions, said Jumaane Williams, New York’s public advocate.
“It’s not the worst for a building of that size,” said Williams, whose office serves as a city watchdog. “What is clear is these folks needed a space heater to stay warm. We have to figure out why that is. Especially in a building that for all we know had heat in it.”
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