2017-05-31 / Front Page

Call For Independent Monitor To Oversee Fire Fix-Up

By Liz Goff
Tenants at an Elmhurst apartment building destroyed by fire on April 11 are heading to court this week to call for an independent administrator to oversee renovations and other issues regarding their apartments.

Legal Aid attorneys will argue the case for families at the 7-story Martinique Plaza at 56-11 94th Street, requesting an independent administrator to oversee all capital improvements at the 112-unit building.

A Yonkers contractor was charged following the blaze with fourth-degree arson, second-degree reckless endangerment and a violation of the city fire code that safeguards roofing operations.

Prosecutors said Declan McElhatton’s reckless use of a torch resulted in a 5-alarm blaze that tore through the building near 57th Avenue in Elmhurst on April 11. The inferno left 67 families homeless and 11 firefighters injured – including two who were hospitalized with very serious, but non-life threatening injuries.

According to a criminal complaint filed by prosecutors, McElhatton, who was hired to make repairs to the roof of the building, specified in a contract with building owners that he would use only materials “designed to be applied cold, without the use of hear” during repairs to the wooden roof.

Fire officials said the blaze was caused by an open flame in close proximity to combustibles on the roof of the building. The complaint alleges that fire marshals that inspected the roof found 18 rolls of black roofing materials designed for use with a torch and two propane tanks, one of which was connected to a black rubber hose.

McElhatton, who works for Maintenance Asset Management in Yonkers, had been working in th3 building just before the fire started, the complaint alleges.

The fire started just before 6:30 p.m. on April 11, fire officials said. Flames shot from the top floor of the building and quickly spread through the building cockloft between the 7th floor ceiling and the roof, FDNY Queensborough Commander Chief Edward Baggott said.

Fire officials said the blaze destroyed 52 units, approximately half of the 112 apartments in the building. Police and firefighters quickly evacuated each of the 112 units, authorities said. “Firefighters had such a quick response that they were able to save 60 apartments,” NYPD Chief of Department James Leonard said.

The Red Cross helped 144 adults and 51children cope with their losses, an agency spokesperson said. Red Cross volunteers arrived at the scene shortly after the inferno started. A number of those displaced by the fire were offered temporary shelter at a nearby school, while others were provided vouchers that allowed them to stay at nearby hotels.
Fire officials said it is unclear when residents would be able to return to units that firefighters saved from the blaze. While firefighters battled fierce flames and smoke at the top of the building units located on lower floors was flooded beyond use, a fire spokesperson said.

Tenants left homeless are saying they don’t trust building management to fairly help them return to their units. The burned-out tenants say they fear that management will price them out of their units, which fall below median rents for the area.

The tenants met with city officials on May 23 to discuss their options. A spokesperson for the tenants said building management has been reaching out to “certain people,” offering them a brand, spanking-new unit if they promise not to take action against management.
“We don’t know and can’t find out what’s happening with our units,” the spokesperson said. “All we get are lies and misinformation.”

Tenants say the building superintendent is useless to their cause. The man changed his story late on April 11, telling fire marshals that no repairs were underway on the roof of the building. “The guy can’t get his story straight,” the spokesperson said. “First he said that repairs were being made when the fire broke out, and then he said there were no repairs,” the spokesperson said. “We can only hope that someone made it worth his while to change his story.”

“We don’t want someone like that to in charge to fix this building up,” Sates Nora, the Legal Aid lawyer representing the tenants said. “The fox is guarding the henhouse,” Nora explained. “Someone is responsible for a fire. You don’t want them responsible for repairing damage from the fire.”

A number of the families were forced to take up residence at local hotels following the fire. Tenants say they have been living in cramped spaces since April 11, and are now being told that they will soon be “shipped off” to homeless shelters for long-term housing.

“There is little to no information or help available for hard working families,” the spokesperson said.

Nora, who heads the Queens office of the Legal Aid Society, said the agency would file a petition this week in Housing Court, asking a judge to appoint the independent administrator.
Building owner, Align Management, did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment on the upcoming legal action.


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