Mayor Eric Adams’ newly released budget plan could help the city’s housing agency crack down on over 15,000 self-closing door violations still unresolved in the wake of last year’s deadly Twin Parks fire in the Bronx.
Faulty doors at the Twin Parks North West high-rise in Fordham Heights allowed smoke to spread from a second-story space heater to the building’s highest floors, killing 17 people, including eight children. The fatal fire inspired new laws to penalize property owners who fail to fix doors that don’t latch shut on their own.
Adams’ budget proposal earmarks about $800,000 to the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development to enforce measures enacted by the City Council in the wake of the blaze. One new law orders landlords to fix self-closing doors within 14 days or face recurring fines of $250 per day until repairs are done. Under the new law, which applies to violations found since Jan. 1, HPD inspectors have 20 days to revisit the building and confirm the doors latch shut.
The agency said it will use the money set aside in the proposed budget to hire nine inspectors and construction project managers, and to pay for better equipment. The agency is looking to add new staff and will host a hiring fair on Jan. 28.
If it's approved and included in the final budget, the new funding will be added to HPD’s budget by July, when the city’s fiscal year begins.
Last year, HPD inspectors identified about 38,000 violations tied to self-closing doors, but more than 15,000 were still marked “open” on the first anniversary of the Twin Parks fire, according to agency records first reported by Gothamist on Monday. Rep. Ritchie Torres, a Bronx Democrat whose district covers Fordham Heights, formed a task force to address fire safety in the wake of the blaze and said he was “outraged” by the lack of enforcement.
“I’ve seen no evidence of a renewed prioritization of fire code enforcement with respect to self-closing doors,” Torres told Gothamist. “A law is only as good as its enforcement.”
Tenants typically make complaints about heat, water and pests, but inspectors who arrive to investigate also test each door they pass through on their way to an apartment. Follow-up has lagged as HPD contends with staffing shortages that further complicate re-inspections and enforcement.
HPD spokesperson William Fowler said the new enforcement spending was part of a broader commitment to improving conditions in affordable housing, including about $4 million to finance needed repairs and another $1.6 million to tackle tenant harassment.
“Overall, the additional funding enables the agency to better meet the city’s housing needs in the years to come,” Fowler said.
The Jan. 9, 2022 fire at the Twin Parks complex was the city’s deadliest blaze since 1990. The smoke that pumped through the 19-story building also left dozens injured and displaced hundreds more. The majority of survivors have since moved out of the building.
The enforcement funding proposal was praised by tenant and landlord interests.
Tenant lawyer Leah Goodridge, the head of housing policy at the organization Mobilization for Justice, called the increase from $153,000 “a great start.” Still, she cautioned that systemic problems, such as a limited number of judges handling tenant complaints in the city’s housing courts, allow dangerous problems to fester.
The cost to landlords can range from about $275 for new hinges on an existing door to about $1,000 for installing a brand new door, said Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, which represents owners of rent-stabilized apartments. The state’s affordable housing agency estimates that a brand new apartment door and doorframe should cost about $3,000.
“As an organization that works with property owners, we would 1,000% encourage them to incur that cost because it’s worth it to save the lives of their renters,” Martin said.
He also urged the city to step up education campaigns around the importance of self-closing doors to dissuade tenants from propping them open to limit loud slams or make passing through hallways easier.
But Jacob Wexler, a fire door inspector whose company Legacy Manufacturing produces door parts, said $800,000 for HPD enforcement is a drop in the bucket. He has called on the city to establish a special office of fire door safety.
“They don’t have enough personnel and they don’t have enough training,” Wexler said. “It’s not nearly enough money.”