Four years before the conflagration that claimed the lives of 17 New Yorkers at the Twin Parks apartments in The Bronx, a devastating blaze tore through another building in the borough under remarkably similar circumstances.
On a frigid night shortly after Christmas 2017, fire broke out in the kitchen of a first floor apartment at 2363 Prospect Ave. in Belmont. Within minutes, thick black smoke spread throughout the building, and when it was over, 13 tenants had perished, including an infant. Six firefighters were injured.
In both the Twin Parks and Prospect Avenue fires, the death toll was magnified by a simple but deadly flaw: smoke and flame caused by a fire in a single apartment rocketed throughout both buildings after doors remained open.
An open door also fanned the flames in a blaze that consumed a Jackson Heights apartment building, leaving dozens of families homeless.
Today despite a repeated cycle of outrage and reform — including tougher penalties against landlords following the Belmont tragedy — thousands of self-closing doors that do not function properly still fill New York City, fully known to housing and fire officials.
Those malfunctioning doors are especially prevalent in lower-income neighborhoods dense with apartment buildings, an analysis by THE CITY of city records has found.
Thousands of violations remain unresolved for either non-functioning or non-existent self-closing doors across New York City, code violation records kept by the city Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) show.
Examining every door violation filed by inspectors from Jan. 1, 2019 through the end of 2021, THE CITY found 18,305 open violations remained in 10,610 buildings as of Jan. 11, 2022.
More than 4,800 of those open citations are at least two years old, dating back to inspections that took place in 2019.
“Those statistics show what I’ve been saying repeatedly, which is we need strong housing laws,” said Coumcilmember Oswald Feliz (D-The Bronx), chair of the Council’s newly formed Fire Prevention Task Force. “We also need a system that promptly detects violations and a system that takes quick action to make sure that violations once detected are quickly cured.”
Overall, including violations since certified as fixed, inspectors wrote up 74,448 citations across all five boroughs during the three-year period.
Any residential building with three or more units must have spring-loaded doors that close automatically, under state law and city codes.
Many of the buildings with doors in violation for lacking self-closing mechanisms are located near those that burned in The Bronx and Queens,
THE CITY found 378 open violations for non-functioning or non-existent self-closing doors in 233 buildings as of Jan. 11 in ZIP code 10458 — where the Prospect Avenue fire took place.
That includes a 48-unit rental building across the street from the fire with two open violations, both dating back to October 2021, and one open violation, also dating to October, at a 160-unit building around the corner on Southern Boulevard.
As of last July, thanks to a reform that followed the 2017 Belmont fire, all such violations get cited as “immediately hazardous,” the most severe class of housing code violation.
A 47-unit building at 246 E. 199th St. had 10 open citations for self-closing door violations as of last week, some of which date back to 2019.
HPD notified the landlord months ago, but as of Friday none had been resolved. All but one of the citations were classified as an “immediate hazard.”