Nearly 200 Bronx residents are scrambling to find a place to live for the next six months after the owner of their apartment building tore out all the fire escapes to redo the facade. After a building inspection on Monday, all the residents were told by the FDNY to get their stuff and get out. "I got a call from one of my neighbors telling me the building was being evacuated," resident Delia Washington tells NBC New York. "Not the call you want, especially when you have a disabled mom and an 11-month-old baby. We don't know anything. We don't know where we're going. We don't know when we can come back."
The management company that owns the building, located at 2400 Webb Avenue, claims it had approval to remove the fire escapes, because an engineer submitted a permit request to the Buildings Department, and it was approved. But as part of a Giuliani-era attempt to streamline bureaucracy, the department has made some permits eligible for automatic approval, and only randomly audits them. In this case, the engineer who submitted it was operating with a suspended license, the Daily News reports.
Records show engineer Ronald Draper’s license "was suspended for a month seven years ago and he was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and placed on probation for two years after being convicted of restraint of trade, which is a Class E felony," according to the News. The city is now investigating 48 other buildings where Draper has done work. Removing all the fire escapes from a building's facade is highly unusual, according to FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief Kevin Butler, who says, "Maybe you’d see the owner remove a line of fire escapes, but not all of them."
Residents, who may not be able to move back in until the end of the year, are understandably furious. The building's owner, Goldfarb Properties, has offered to house them in one of its other properties, or they can take $120 a night to cover hotel accommodations. “How are you going to take me out of my three-bedroom apartment, where I pay $1,700 per month, and send me to a motel where people pay by the hour and bring their sleazy girlfriends?” Willie Westmoreland, 50, asks the News. Another tenant asks NBC New York, "In New York, where you going to find a good place for $120? Where?"
The building was also cited for other fire hazards, including no sprinklers in the garage and a missing firewall between the garage and the building. "It’s almost like premeditated murder," another tenant tells CBS 2.