The Department of Buildings (DOB) lifted a vacate order, allowing remaining tenants to return to their homes after the owners, The Kalikow Group, renovated the complex.
According to building manager Jordan Platt, the fire was started by a space heater on the sixth floor. The tenant who lived in that apartment packed her possessions and left the building without notifying anyone about the fire.
The five-alarm fire injured seven people, four firefighters and three civilians, and displaced 66 families nearly 10 months ago. It took 200 firefighters nearly three hours to control the flames.
“Half of the roof was gone, which made it difficult to get families back in, especially in late December,” said Platt.
Half of the residents returned two days later, after the apartments were deemed habitable.
Other residents had to wait a while longer, until the $3.4 million repair was complete. The last 13 units were approved for occupancy in early October.
“Remarkably, all but three of the 66 displaced families chose to remain at the building, despite the hardship of staying with family and friends while the repairs were undertaken,” Platt said.
Frank Favilla and his wife Aabye-Gayle lived on the fifth floor for two years before the fire occurred. After returning the next day to recover their belongings, they found their apartment water damaged and destroyed.
“But through the whole thing, the landlords were great, always in communication with us,” said Mr. Favilla.
Favilla wrote letters to Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, who spoke to the DOB on the tenants’ behalf in order to speed inspections along. The couple moved back once their apartment was safe to live in.
“We made it our home,” he said. “We really liked the space.”
Favilla said Platt was very honest and forthcoming with what was going on with the building and what they could do in the meanwhile.
He also credited the help of Jose Santiago, the building superintendent, as another reason why the Favillas returned to their apartment.
Another tenant, Nironjan Banik and his wife Dipa, lived on the first floor since 2004 with their daughter Krishti. Unlike the Favilla family, they did not have renter’s insurance and lost $30,000 worth of possessions.
Mr. Banik said he likes the new renovations and he has no problem with management—his family was given a discount on rent. However, he was upset that all his family’s belongings were gone.
“I could not take anything,” he said. “Only my shirt, my pants, and my jacket.”
The owners said their management provided families the option to escape their leases, as well as the name of a realtor that would help them find another home. They also made insurance agents accessible to tenants, and immediately stopped collecting rent after the fire.
Improvements, other than the renovated apartments, were also made, such as new elevator cabs and machinery, and an enhanced security system.