Kalikow tenants make welcome return to fire-ravaged building
Nearly 10 months after a five-alarm fire ripped through an apartment complex in Elmhurst in the aftermath of a blizzard, injuring seven people and displacing 66 families, the Buildings Department has fully rescinded the vacate order allowing the remaining tenants to return after a multi-million dollar renovation by the owners, The Kalikow Group. The blaze broke out just after 6:30p.m. on the top floor of the six-story building located at 41-72 Judge St on December 27, 2010.
It took 200 firefighters called to the scene nearly three hours to get the flames under control. According to the FDNY, crews had trouble reaching the fire because of abandoned, snow-covered roadways and high winds, which acted as fuel for the flames. Four firefighters and three civilians were injured in the blaze. None of the injuries sustained were life-threatening.
"Half of the roof was gone, which made it difficult to get families back in, especially in late December," said Jordan Platt of Kaled Management, the management division of The Kalikow Group. "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."
More than half of the residents were able to return in just two days after officials at the department of Buildings, HPD and The Kalikow Group made sure their units were habitable. For others the wait took much longer as the owners embanked on a $3.4 million rehabilitation of the property. The final 13 units were approved for occupancy last week.
"Fortunately, our company had the ability to begin repairs immediately and not wait on insurance," said Platt, who described the fire as the worst disaster The Kalikow Group has experienced in the firm's 80-year history owning, developing and managing residential properties.
"We were able to use our own electricians, plumbers and roofers knowing that our contractors have our best interests at heart and we did not have to settle for the cheapest solutions sometimes dictated by insurance companies."
The company was also able to make some improvements along the way, including new elevator cabs and machinery, as well as an enhanced security system.
The Kalikow Group offered special thanks to officials at HPD, the Office of Emergency Management, the Red Cross, the Buildings Department and the office of Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras for their assistance to families and the owners in the immediate aftermath of the fire and the ensuing months. HPD called the Kalikow Group's response to the fire "the perfect example that every owner should follow."
That sentiment was echoed by building residents. Frank Favilla, who lived at the Judge Street apartment building for two years with his wife Aabye-Gayle prior to the fire, said "I would like to express my appreciation to the entire Kaled Management team, from my superintendent Jose to property manager Jordan Platt to everyone else that I have ever spoken to. Through a stressful and confusing time, they all maintained professionalism and courtesy towards my family, kept us informed and returned my phone calls in a timely manner to speak about the situation at Judge Street."
Among the things management did for families who were displaced from their apartments for any length of time was provide the option to escape their leases due to the extent of the damage; provide the name of a realtor that would help them find an apartment in another of their buildings; made insurance agents available to tenants to answer questions; and immediately stopped collecting rent even before tenants filled out required rent reduction forms. Residents who were able to go back into their apartments within a few days were provided with hot plates (free of charge) until their gas service was restored.
"There were many reasons these families chose to remain in this Elmhurst building, from the neighborhood diversity to the way the property is maintained," said Platt. "From our standpoint, our properties are a source of pride. We felt a responsibility to not only restore the property, but improve it in any way we could for all the families that will call Judge Street home for years to come."
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