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
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)