Illegal Conversions Kill

Update, September 25: This morning's news reports have additional information about the living situation in the building.

251 East 19th Street, the morning of September 25
251 East 19th Street

Shortly after midnight this morning (September 24), a fire broke out in a house several blocks from mine, in the adjacent neighborhood of Beverly Square East, one of the neighborhoods of free-standing, wood-frame Victorian homes in the larger area known as Victorian Flatbush. Early reports misidentified the neighborhood as Kensington. Some reports are still misidentifying the neighborhood as Ditmas Park, which is a historic district whose northern boundary lies two blocks to the south.

The immediate cause of the fire was an electric malfunction. The deeper cause is the illegal conversion of a single-family home to multiple units. The property is on file as a single residential unit, a single-family home. There were as many as 6 people living on the attic floor where the fire broke out; three of them, aged 76, 50 and 12, were killed by this fire, and one remains in serious condition. The only working smoke detector was on the first floor.

At least one report cites "numerous violations" against the owner of the building. However, most of the violations and complaints I can find are all several years old, and were all "cured" or "resolved". There is one active complaint, created today, for failure to maintain a fire-damaged building.

I learned from news reports the morning of the 25th that this was not an absentee landlord situation. The 11 people who lived on the top two floors of the building, including the three killed, are part of the owner's extended family. Three more people live on the first floor.

The existing system of DOB violations is broken. Fines and liens are insufficient deterrents. DOB and FDNY must have the authority to obtain warrants to enter buildings to investigate outstanding safety and occupancy violations. Owners' income from such buildings must be seized, paid into escrow, until the DOB and FDNY certify that life-threatening conditions have been resolved.


Hero boy dies trying to save 2 from fire (NY Daily News, September 25)
Boy, 12, dies in fire trying to save grandmother (Newsday, September 25)
Fire Kills 3, From 3 Generations, in a Crowded House in Brooklyn (New York Times, September 25)
Man Rescues Teenager From Blazing Brooklyn Rooftop (New York Sun, September 25)
Deadly fire rips through a home in Brooklyn (7Online, ABC local affiliate)
FDNY Says Electrical Wiring To Blame For Deadly Brooklyn Fire (NY1 News)
Google News


Anonymous said...

I feel so bad for those who perished in this horrible way but this is just another example of a fire that more than likely would have been averted if this home were maintained "up to code." If there were at least operable smoke detectors lives could have been saved. Other neighborhood blogs where posters have posted these same sentiments are said to be "turning against people inhabiting these buildings" by the maintainer of the blog. How far from the truth though. Number one these are single family homes not buildings and the people who would cram every member of their extended family into a home without the proper safety measures has turned against both his family, his neighbors and the fire fighters who respond to these fires putting their lives on the line.

Anonymous said...

From what I read this house was repaired after an earlier fire, but it appears that it either wasn't rewired or the electrical work was poorly done. The original wiring in our Victorian homes, even if the insulation is not cracked, was not meant to carry today's electrical loads.

After an earlier fire I don't understand why there wasn't a smoke alarm installed in every room. At less than $10 per unit, why not?

I wouldn't object to the fire department making routine inspections of each house as is done in many other cities.