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Investigation: Tenants living in condemned apts

January 12, 2012 5:31:50 PM PST
Tenants are found living in potentially dangerous apartments repeatedly cited for safety violations.

Why is New York City letting them live in what could turn into a fire trap?

The tenants pay their rent, but what they have to do to stay warm and cook their meals are serious fire threats.

The building in the Bronx Hunts Point section screams out fire trap.

Up to eight or nine rooms are each rented out through Craig's List to people desperate for a roof over their heads.

"I pay $600 a month," said Jose, a renter.

"I'm paying $175 a week, almost $700 a month," said George Torres, a renter.

"I'm paying $175 also," said Johnny, another renter.

But all say they have no heat.

"No heat, no water, no place to cook, practically nothing," Torres said.

So they stay warm with space heaters plugged into extension cords.

No stove means hot plates are used in the rooms for cooking.

It's a fire just waiting to happen and the city knows it.

Since 2005, the Buildings Department has repeatedly fined the landlord.

The landlord has more than $70,000 in unpaid fines for illegally renting up to 15 rooms at a time, endangering lives.

"Are they safe?" Eyewitness News asked the residents.

"Not really. It's a fire hazard," Torres said.

"It's a fire hazard. We know that," Jose said.

"But that's the only way we can get warmer because if not we'd be totally frozen that room," Torres said.

City records show since 2008, inspectors have been denied access to the building 17 times.

Last year, the death of five people in illegal apartment fires prompted the Mayor to step up enforcement with firefighters and building inspectors teaming up to gain access to firetrap apartments.

"What we really need is for these landlords to be treated as criminals," said David Schwartz, Former NYC Prosecutor.

But this former city district attorney says greedy landlords will continue to rent illegal apartments until the city gets serious about prosecuting them.

"The landlord is trying to maximize its profits on running basically a criminal enterprise, because the landlord is not offering anything to these tenants. It's fraud in the inducement," Schwartz said.

The elusive landlord was nowhere to be found.

He sends someone to collect the rent which adds up to thousands of dollars to live in hazardous conditions.

"It was false advertisement. We were told that it was fully furnished. It would be fully furnished. It would have heat, water, a nice back yard," Torres said.

Eyewitness News has also learned that 10 months ago, the city issued a vacate order and then sealed up the home.

A few months ago, the owner started renting rooms in these illegal apartments.

The city says they are considering another vacate order.

So around and around it goes so long as the city refuses to prosecute what some experts say are clearly crimes.

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