Cracking down on illegal partitions
By Jordan Platt, Vice President of Operations, Kaled Management Corp.
Recently, a Bronx jury found the owner of an apartment building guilty of criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment resulting from the infamous 2005 "Black Sunday" fire that took the lives of two New York City firefighters. Tenants in the property had erected illegal partitions in the building that left the firefighters trapped and disoriented, forcing them to leap to their deaths.
While a separate jury acquitted the tenants responsible for building the illegal partitions of the same charges, the building owner was deemed to have known about the hazards and not have done enough to get the partitions removed. He currently is facing up to four years in prison.
This tragic case should serve as a wake-up call to building owners that these illegal partitions not only are building code violations that could result in considerable fines, that they are fire hazards that have and will continue to cost lives of both residents and rescue personnel. As the Black Sunday case reveals, juries ultimately will hold landlords to a higher standard of responsibility for illegal partitions than the tenants who erect them.
In direct response to this case, Kaled Management Corp., one of New York's leading residential management companies, initiated a portfolio wide investigation of over 2,000 rental units in search of illegal partitions.
Memos were sent to the building staff at each property instructing them to go apartment by apartment in search of illegal partitions. Where illegal partitions were discovered, certified letters were sent to those tenants and about two-thirds of the partitions were removed. In most cases, Kaled Management removed the walls and repainted at our expense to help insure that these potential violations were rectified. Tenants were then asked to sign an affidavit certifying that the illegal partitions had been removed.
In some cases, where two means of egress remained, as in the creation of a dining area or office, these walls were allowed to remain. In others, where tenants have ben uncooperative with our efforts to inspect the premises or remove the partitions, we had no choice but to begin legal actions against the tenants for illegal alterations to the apartments and creating fire hazards.
Other factors came into play while conduction our campaign to remove these fire hazards. Some tenants requested larger apartments, while others decided they would vacate immediately or at the end of their current lease. We tried very hard to accommodate relocation requests, but in the current market this was not always feasible.
While no owner wants to lose a tenant with a good rent payment history, especially in the current market, the issue of illegal partitions and the fire hazards they create transcends economic considerations.
The task of investigating and removing illegal partitions throughout our portfolio of owners and managed properties has not been an easy one, but the effort has been well worth it if we have stopped a potential tragedy from happening in one of our buildings.
Article featured in Real Estate Weekly