Sunnyside Fire Victims Secured 6-Month Housing Extension

Mohamed Farghaly

Community Demands Action for Displaced Residents 6 Months After
Devastating Fire

By Mohamed Farghaly |

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. has secured an extension of temporary
housing agreements for 22 families displaced by a December 2023 fire at 43-09 47th
Avenue in Sunnyside. Initially offered for six months, the agreements were set to expire
on July 2, prompting concerns over housing stability for the affected residents.

Under the new plan announced with A&E Real Estate, these families will now benefit
from an additional six-month extension, allowing them to remain in temporary
accommodations until January 15, 2025. Borough President Richards expressed gratitude
to A&E Real Estate for their cooperation and reiterated his commitment to working with
city partners to ensure continuous support for those displaced by the fire, addressing both
immediate and long-term housing needs.

Mohamed Farghaly

“Through no fault of their own, our neighbors tragically lost their homes and their
possessions in the heart of the holiday season last winter,” Richards said. “I’m thankful to
A&E Real Estate for its partnership and for its support of these families by offering
additional temporary lease agreements. Going forward my office will work tirelessly with
our partners in city government to ensure those displaced by the fire have continuous
access to stable and affordable housing.”

This update on securing new temporary housing agreements for displaced Sunnyside
families comes just days after community leaders, fire victims, and advocates gathered
for a rally demanding urgent action for the affected residents.
The rally outside 43-09 47th Avenue aimed to draw attention to the numerous families
displaced by a fire ignited by an unauthorized blowtorch, which injured fourteen
individuals and displaced nearly 450 tenants.

Following the December 20 blaze, A&E Real Estate offered displaced tenants the option
to rent apartments in other properties owned by the company at their previous rental

Council-member Julie Won delivered a passionate address at the rally condemning A&E
Real Estate Holdings for their treatment of displaced residents.

“It is unacceptable and shameful that 450 people who were displaced were given an offer
by A&E for temporary leases,” Won said.  “Initially, they offered six months at the same
rent as they were paying here in a new location throughout the city, given their portfolio
of over 100 buildings.”

The council-member highlighted the diverse needs of the affected tenants, including
those with disabilities and families with children in the local school system.
“We have neighbors who are ADA accessible, who don’t have the ability to easily move
into other apartments,” she said. “It’s bad enough you made them homeless once right
before Christmas and New Year’s; you can’t now do the same trauma to them again.”

Won had called for A&E to extend temporary leases until the apartments are fully ready
for habitation and construction is set to begin.

“The Department of Buildings records show that they haven’t even decided to start
construction on the building yet,” she said. “We don’t want them slow-rolling the
construction to make it habitable again.”

Urging A&E to act in good faith and fulfill their responsibilities to the displaced families,
Won emphasized the community’s solidarity in holding the real estate company
accountable for the fire’s devastating consequences.

“You can’t punish these people for having done nothing wrong, and they’re not asking
me to stay for free,”Won said. “They’re saying, I will pay the rent the same way I would
if you didn’t burn my apartment down. Let them stay and they will pay rent at the same

Mohamed Farghaly

Brett Callaway, a partner at McLaughlin & Stern LLP representing approximately 172
tenants affected by the devastating Sunnyside fire, expressed determination in pursuing
legal action against A&E Real Estate Holdings. Callaway, alongside the displaced
residents, has filed a complaint alleging negligence, gross negligence, breach of contract,
and breach of warranty of habitability.

At the rally, following months of what he described as “good faith negotiations” with
A&E and their legal representatives, Callaway emphasized the urgency of the situation.

“The wheels of justice are just that, sometimes slow,” Callaway said. “It’s my job and our
firm’s job and what we do to expedite the remediation process by any and every means
that we have available to us.”

Addressing concerns over potential eviction threats faced by his clients as temporary
housing agreements near expiration, Callaway indicated their readiness to seek
injunctions and pursue aggressive discovery and expert reports. These measures are
intended to hold A&E accountable and prevent any actions that could jeopardize the
tenants’ rights, including attempts to convert rent-stabilized units to market rent.

“I’ve seen this movie before, I’m not pointing my fingers, but I’m pointing my fingers,”
Callaway said. “We’re not going to let them do that. We will move forward with all the
alacrity that the court system will allow us. But we’re going to war guys, and we’ve got a
big army behind us.”

Acknowledging the critical support from local politicians like Senator Gianaris and
Councilwoman Won, Callaway stressed the importance of legislative efforts and ongoing
pressure on A&E to uphold their responsibilities.

The legal battle ahead remains uncertain in terms of timeline, but Callaway affirmed their
commitment to advocating for the displaced families of Sunnyside until they receive the
justice and housing solutions they deserve.
The community’s support has been crucial in amplifying the voices of these displaced
families and urging A&E Real Estate to act responsibly.

Ruth, a longtime resident of the Sunnyside building ravaged by fire last December, spoke
out about the impact of the disaster on her and her neighbors’ lives during a recent
community rally.

Mohamed Farghaly

“I’ve been in this building since I was 10 years old,” Ruth said. “I grew up here, and I
love this building so much that I got my own apartment here. This can happen to any
New York City resident in a pre-war building. It happened in a vacant apartment, not
because of any fault of the residents.”

Expressing concern over the slow progress in rebuilding efforts, Ruth emphasized the
uncertainty faced by displaced tenants.

We want to return home, and work hasn’t even started yet. All I’m asking is for work to
begin,” she said.

Reflecting on her decision not to accept A&E Real Estate’s temporary housing offer,
Ruth described her search for a more stable solution.

“I did not take the six-month agreement because I couldn’t risk a temporary situation.
They said they would work with tenants after six months on a case-by-case basis,” she
said. “I was fortunate to find something more secure, but many others in my building
took the offer and are now in the same situation six months later. It’s heartbreaking and

Mercedes Morales, another displaced resident deeply affected by the December 20 fire,
shared her story during the community gathering.

“I lived on the fourth floor, and now if you see, it’s all boarded up,” Morales said. “The
story goes that there was a contractor who illegally used a blowtorch. Forty years of my
life, gone in an instant. This is where my child was born and raised.”

Expressing the emotional toll of displacement, Morales described her move to the Bronx
and the challenges of starting over.

Mohamed Farghaly

“It’s a painful experience because now I have to relocate, and everything I had is
damaged or lost due to the fire,” she said.

Morales emphasized the need for concrete actions from those responsible for rebuilding

“Words don’t mean anything. Actions do,” she said. “So far, there’s been little progress.
Hopefully, in two or three years, maybe I’ll be back. We’ll be back, all of us.”

A spokesperson of A&E emailed the following statement earlier in June: “We have made
steady progress stabilizing the building, but the damage was severe and there are no
quick fixes here. We have been transparent with tenants about those challenges, and that
the emergency hotel stays and discounted apartments we provided after the fire were a
temporary solution to give everyone breathing room as they made longer-term plans.
Ultimately, the insurance process will determine how to compensate all parties from the
losses in the fire.”

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