Developing: University Heights Fire Escapes Fiasco Caused By Paperwork Foul-Up
Updated at 12:32 a.m., June 6, 2012
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Hundreds of residents of an apartment building in the Bronx were forced to find another place to stay Tuesday after the city ordered them out, citing safety concerns.
Fire officials ordered the building at 2400 Webb Avenue in University Heights to be vacated because a renovation contractor took down all the fire escapes, creating a fire hazard for all 76 units.
Late Tuesday, CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis learned more information that left some asking if the entire ordeal was an innocent mistake, or a cold-hearted cost-cutting maneuver. Dennis found out the wrong paperwork filed with the city months ago is what created the nightmare.
Every apartment door was closed off and sealed with, of all things, orange towing signs. In the end, having no fire escapes throughout the building forced more than 200 residents to move.
“This is devastating. I’m having a nightmare, and I hope we’re back before six months,” tenant Carmen Arverelo told Dennis.
It could be longer.
The misery is mounting not just for residents, but for the management company, Goldfarb Properties, which placed security at the door and forked over checks for $840 per apartment for this week alone.
Tiffany Barker said her family moved out so fast, she ripped her pants.
“I ripped them, and then they just kept going. With every lift, they were just going and going, now they’re gone,” Barker said.
Sources told Dennis that the mistake came down to paperwork. The engineer hired by Goldfarb to help renovate the building filed what’s called an alteration type 2 application for minor work on the building, instead of an alteration type 1 application for major work, including a change in egress.
Dennis also learned removing the fire escapes was not authorized or even applied for with the city. The result was everyone being cleared out, including one family Dennis reported seeing getting locked out before the family members could clear out.
The Barker family’s apartment was one those sealed off by authorities. Keys were given to them after they had to come back for the last of their belongings. It was another nightmare in a building that could have been a death trap.
“We understand it’s for safety, but the inconvenience, there’s no excuse for the inconvenience that they’re putting us through,” Barker said.
HOW THIS ALL STARTED
Tenants said they learned Monday at an emergency meeting jointly held by Goldfarb Properties and city officials that they had 24 hours to vacate their apartments.
1010 WINS’ John Montone reports
“I’m very upset. It’s emotional right now. I feel kinda victimized right now,” tenant Angel Nieves said.
“It’s just so devastating to find out that, not only do you have to move, but you have 24 hours to move and you don’t know where you are going to move to,” tenant Delia Washington said.
“It was surprising to us. A total surprise,” Carmen Arevalo added.
The 55-year-old public school counselor and her four grandchildren were all packed up and ready to move.
“I’m just emotionally drained. I’m supposed to be strong because I’m a counselor. I deal with people who go through this. Now, I’m going through it myself,” Arevalo said.
The order to leave came after all the fire escapes, except for the structural framework, were removed by the management company for building renovation.
“I don’t know what they’re thinking,” said displaced tenant Melitza Alma-Nojolo. “It’s insane. In New York City, you always need a fire escape.”
FDNY Deputy Chief Jay Jonas said the building’s owners violated their own permits in the building that say “no change in egress” permitted.
Each of the building’s 200 residents were given a list of hotels and a stipend starting at $120 a day, but many said that’s not enough.
“Where are you going to get a hotel in New York for $120 a night? Most of the hotels that we call on that list, some are in excess of $120 and some of them don’t even have availability, so it’s kind of a night to night thing,” one resident said.
The FDNY also found a number of other violations, including no firewall in the garage. Everything has to be fixed before the building can re-open.
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