“It’s a matter of public safety.” News 12 Investigates what has been done regarding fire safety a year after the Twin Parks tragedy
Seventeen lives were lost at Twin Parks last year in part because doors designed to close never did.
“The Twin Parks fire happened a year ago and in the span of that year I haven’t been able to get our doors anywhere near code compliant,” said Lyric Thompson, a Bushwick resident.
The problem of faulty self-closing doors appears to persist throughout the city.
Thompson says she’s lived with two faulty self-closing doors in her Bushwick building for eight years.
“If we were fleeing from a fire because, God forbid, our building is in flames, that is supposed to protect us,” said Thompson.
City records show a violation was issued for at least one door in December, and city records show a certification of correction was published.
But when News 12 Investigative Reporter Katelynn Ulrich visited the building two weeks after the certification was published, neither door closed.
The landlord didn’t want to be recorded on a phone call, but said he never made a repair or notified the Department of Housing Preservation and Development that it was fixed.
He said HPD was responsible for both.
A spokesperson for HPD could only say there was no actual record of repair, and that a landlord is responsible for sending a certification of correction.
“This is a matter of public safety and if they don’t wish to address it, find another job so we can find someone who can address it,” said Thompson.
City Councilmember Oswald Feliz took it upon himself to make sure the job gets done.
He helped pass Introduction 105-A to improve landlord accountability.
“We’re not taking evidence that the landlord is providing, the city is going in themselves to certify its correction,” said Feliz.
Starting this year, the law requires landlords to make repairs to doors within 14 days or be fined daily until it’s fixed. That’s down from the current 21 days.
And now HPD is responsible to inspect those repairs firsthand.
Before, a landlord could simply send a letter saying it was fixed or HPD could call a tenant and ask them if repairs were made.
When designing the bill, HPD told the city council that staffing is an ongoing concern, says Feliz.
“They said, like many city agencies, they were understaffed.”
News 12 wanted to know more about those staffing and enforcement challenges, so Ulrich reached out to HPD nearly every week over the course of two months. We asked for an interview, a potential inspection walk-through, and information about self-closing door violations.
Just two weeks before this story aired a spokesperson got back to News 12 with a statement, information about self-closing door violations this year, and fire safety tips.
“The horrific Twin Parks fire and everyone who was impacted by this terrible tragedy is still on our minds and continues to drive our work to ensure New Yorkers are safe in their homes. Since that tragic day, we’re proud to have helped all the families who needed assistance get out of emergency shelter and back into permanent homes. As a city, we’re implementing new laws and measures to better ensure New Yorkers are safe from the spread of deadly smoke and fire, including stronger enforcement and educational efforts around self-closing doors and space heater safety. Working together, we can and will keep New Yorkers safe,” wrote HPD Commissioner Adolfo Carrión Jr.
In the middle of our investigation, News 12 turned to councilmember Feliz to take our question directly to HPD during a city council hearing.
“For inspectors, our current headcount is 257,” said AnnMarie Santiago, HPD Deputy Commissioner for Enforcement and Neighborhood Services during a Committee on Housing and Buildings hearing with the department.
Councilman Feliz says that’s nearly 200 short of the number of inspectors the department is budgeted for.
On a call, an HPD spokesperson told Ulrich it doesn’t prevent the department from doing its job.
“We’ve hired 50 or 60 inspectors, but we’ve lost people at the same time. We are moving in the right direction, just not as quickly as we want,” said Santiago.
According to HPD, between January and Nov. 15, 2022, there were 33,239 self-closing door violations alone. 20, 870 were closed.
In an email, an HPD spokesperson said the department now posts a notice of violation and inspection in the building when a self-closing door violation is issued.
“I think that these doors are telling of a larger issue and environment and attitude of non-compliance and non-enforcement,” said Thompson.
Residents like Lyric Thompson wait for answers. Though Thompson doesn’t know if this new form of enforcement will shut the door on this chapter of deadly negligence.