Militant Journalism

Another fire in the Bronx at building long-neglected by landlord

On Feb. 9, the Party for Socialism and Liberation and Bridging Africans and Black Americans will hold a rally at E. 181st St. and Grand Concourse in the Bronx. Victims of both the Grand Avenue and Twin Parks fires will speak out and demand emergency citywide inspection of all buildings with heating complaints, the prosecution of negligent landlords who fail to provide adequate heating, and the reinstatement of the eviction moratorium. The rally will begin at 6 p.m.

On Feb. 5, a large fire broke out on the third and fourth floors of a six-story apartment complex on Grand Avenue in the Bronx in New York City. Nine tenants and a firefighter were injured with some hospitalized. Over 100 firefighters across 25 units responded to the fire.

While the cause of the fire is currently unknown, the residential building was in extremely poor condition. Residents filed 58 complaints to the New York Department of Housing and Development in the last year alone, 31 of which were classified as emergency complaints. Seventeen complaints, which included roach and mice infestations, water leaks, lack of self-closing doors and exposed electrical wires, were outstanding. Tenants are forced to file complaints with HPD when landlords refuse to make the repairs necessary for a habitable apartment.

Grand Avenue tenant Raisa shows Liberation News the destruction caused by the fire.

Fire a result of landlord negligence

The Grand Avenue fire comes just four weeks after the deadly Twin Parks apartment complex fire which killed 17 people — eight of whom were children. While the official cause of that fire was a faulty space heater, the root cause was lack of adequate heating and landlord negligence. Tenants had filed numerous maintenance complaints, including lack of heating, exposed wiring, and broken radiators — all of which the landlord of the building, Rick Gropper, ignored.

Despite this negligence on Gropper’s part, Mayor Eric Adams shifted responsibility onto the tenants themselves, chastising them for not “closing the door” behind them while fleeing the burning building and allowing the fire to spread. Gropper donated to Adams’s mayoral campaign and sits on his housing transition team.

Comparisons with Twin Parks fire

The Grand Avenue tenants could not help but draw comparisons to Twin Parks. When speaking to Liberation News, Veneliss Olmeida, a long-time tenant and mother of three even remarked, “We don’t want another Twin Parks.”

Tenants who had direct damages were evacuated and given three-day hotel vouchers. Raisa, another mother of three whose apartment was completely destroyed by the fire, explained that she had nowhere to go once the voucher expired and had not heard from the landlord. 

“I have two small children and a pregnant daughter,” she said. “What am I supposed to do now? They have no clothes, so I’m relying on friends’ handouts. Am I supposed to go to sleep under a bridge? This was my apartment. What am I to do?”

Other tenants stayed with family members and friends. The remaining tenants had to deal with the aftermath of the fire with no communication from the landlord. These tenants had their gas shut off and lost access to hot water as a pipe burst on the second floor, flooding the stairwell and several second floor apartments. Some tenants still have no hot water or gas.

Apartment where the fire began

All residents, from those who lost everything to those dealing with residual damages, did not hear from their landlord Sam Applegrad until two days after the tragedy. Applegrad arrived two days after the fire, ignoring calls from tenants and from news outlets all weekend. Applegrad, who owns 32 buildings in New York City, has a history of ignoring tenants’ needs. 

In 2021, tenants in the South Bronx organized against Applegrad for harassment and eviction threats against immigrant residents. The Right to Counsel NYC Coalition, an initiative that provides free legal counsel and representation to tenants facing eviction, ranked Applegrad and his management company University Realty Holdings as number 18 in the “Top 20 Worst Evictors” list in the city. 

“Lack of communication, lack of trust, lack of materials … We have plumbing issues, we have cooking issues, safety issues, pest issues. There are so many things,” lamented Olmeida.

Featured image: Aftermath of second Bronx fire. Liberation photo

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