We reported yesterday that on Sunday a man and his 12 year old nephew died in a Brooklyn row house due to a non-functioning smoke detector. See NY Daily News story here.
The row house fire
Now it appears that the house may be have been carved-up into illegal apartments, and this may have a been a factor in the spread of the fire. See NY Daily News story here. FDNY is investigating.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for landlords to create illegal apartments out of their one, two, or three family homes. This occurs frequently in working class neighbors with immigrant populations where there is a shortage of affordable rentals.
Such apartments may be illegal from a number of viewpoints. For example, creating a multiple dwelling out of a single family home would be in violation of a certificate of occupancy for an one family home. Creating more apartments can be in violation of zoning laws; this is a typical concern in the suburbs. However, more importantly, carving-out new apartments can be a safety violation of the building and fire codes.
An illegal apartment, typically a converted basement or attic, can be dangerous from a number of reasons:
- Inadequate number of exits. An apartment must have an adequate means of exit or egress. Depending upon the type and age of the structure, a building must have two forms of exit for each living unit, such as an internal staircase in the building and a fire escape or entrance directly to the outside. An illegal apartment might have its sole exit to the street through another living unit, and this is a serious safety violation.
- Inadequate ventilation and windows. This is typical with an illegal basement apartment located next to the furnace and water heater. These may be producing carbon monoxide gas, a colorless and odorless killer.
- Inadequate and illegal building materials. This can occur when the owner builds new walls and wiring.
- Inadequate and illegal electrical and plumbing methods. Generally, a landlord willing to rent illegal dwellings will cut-back on hiring licensed and experienced contractors.
- Failure to install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
An illegal apartment can be a deathtrap in a fire.
Also, building code violations can cause other injuries, such as falls on stairs when leaving the building in an emergency.
We have handled many accident and injury cases involving illegal apartments and violations of the building code. If you have been injured due to conditions in an illegal apartment, please feel free to call me at 800-244-9313 for a free consultation.
Mark E. Seitelman, 10/14/08, www.seitelman.com.