Legal Aid Society Files Lawsuit Protecting Victims of Elmhurst Fire from Landlord Fraud
THURSDAY, MAY 25, 2017

The Legal Aid Society today announced a lawsuit filed against 56-11 94th Street Co., LLC, The City of New York, The Department of Housing Preservation and Development of the City of New York, and The Environmental Control Board of the City of New York on behalf of victims of the Elmhurst fire that took place on the night of April 11, 2017. The cause of that fire is the subject of a criminal investigation which centers around a contractor hired by the management company. This individual is facing criminal charges for his role in this fire.

Since April, most of the 111 apartments in the building remain unoccupied due to a vacate order issued by the City. Many of these families are being housed in temporary shelters run by the City. Many families have lost their lifes’ possessions as a result of fire, smoke and water damage. Others are unable to access their possessions because of the prohibitions on accessing the building imposed by the City and by the landlord. Now, many tenants are being told that the repair process may take years. Facing these unfortunate facts, the tenants asked the Legal Aid Society to take legal action against the landlord and the management company. Today, we announce that the tenants are commencing a lawsuit called a “7A Proceeding,” which seeks an order of the court appointing an administrator to oversee the repair process in a transparent and accountable way.

Given the serious questions about the cause of the fire, the tenants seek an independent administrator to restore their building to habitability. Without a fair, independent administrator, the tenants fear excessive delays, unnecessary improvements, and the incentive for the landlord to raise the rents through repairs. The tenants see an Article 7A proceeding as the only form of action that would help the tenants return to their apartments in a timely manner, with conditions repaired, and with less of a risk that they would have to suffer any further repercussions from the fire that has already caused them so much grief.

“Too often, landlords can exploit a tragedy like this fire to exploit the impacted tenants by forcing them to give up their rights,” said Sateesh Nori, Attorney-In-Charge of the Queens Civil Office at The Legal Aid Society. “This lawsuit will protect these tenants from being forced to move out or face long delays and exorbitant rent increases. The tenants are entitled to have their apartment restored to habitability quickly and without rent increases. Residents of this building have suffered enough tragedy. They deserve nothing less.”

State Senator Jose Peralta said, “It is reprehensible when people want to benefit from a tragedy. This fire, which is under criminal investigation, left dozens of hardworking families temporarily without a roof, and now their landlord is playing games to force these victims to give up their rights by threatening them with delays and increased rents. I applaud The Legal Aid Society for its efforts to protect the victims of the fire by filing a lawsuit on their behalf.”

"I fully support this lawsuit which will protect tenants and hold the landlord accountable for its actions," said NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm (D-Elmhurst, Jackson Heights). "These families have already suffered greatly. This horrible chapter in their lives must be resolved as quickly and fairly as possible. An independent administrator will ensure timely restoration of the building without undue rent increases for tenants. The safety and well-being of my constituents will always be a top priority. I will continue to advocate for them."