Second fire lawsuit, seeking $500M, filed against Fordham Heights building owners

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Family, friends and community members gather at a candlelight vigil held on Tuesday to remember the 17 victims who perished in the Jan. 9 Fordham Heights fire.
Photo Adrian Childress

A Gambian woman who survived last Sunday’s Fordham Heights apartment building fire that claimed the lives of 17 people is suing building owners for $500 million, alleging that property owners allowed people to live in the complex despite unsafe conditions, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

According to a lengthy 96-page complaint, the Gambian-born claimant Hullamatou Ceesay alleges that the building owners — Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC, which is a development consortium of The Camber Property Group, Belveron Partners and the LIHC Group — failed to fireproof the premises of the Twins Parks North West and also denied requests from residents to fireproof their individual apartment complexes.  Ceesay did suffer injuries from the fire, the extent to which, was not detailed in the docket.

Ceesay’s lawsuit, which was filed in Bronx Supreme Court, is the second separate lawsuit filed against property owners this week. The first lawsuit, which was filed on Tuesday by two other tenants, alleges the owners did not address “actual notice of defective conditions” in the high-rise building, and that resulted in a malfunctioning self-closing door that fire officials say exacerbated the spread of the fire.

The lead plaintiffs in that case, husband and wife Rosa Reyes and Felix Martinez, are seeking $1 billion and compensatory damages for alleged negligence and another $2 billion in punitive damages on behalf of themselves and others affected by the fire.

Throughout its 123 building portfolio, Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC has a total of 11,801 residential units, but within just the last three years had received 2,468 heat and hot water complaints submitted to the city’s 311 service, according to NYC-based tenant-organizing service JustFix NYC. Before the Jan. 9 fire, there were 18 open violations against the property, with 174 total violations levied since new ownership took over in 2020, records filed with the city Department of Housing  Preservation and Development show.

While some tenants are taking legal recourse against building owners, for other tenants it was time for somber goodbyes.

On Wednesday, the first of many planned communal funerals commemorating the 17 lives that perished in the fire, was held at the Islamic Cultural Center. The first funeral honored young victims, Seydou Torre, 12, and Haouwa Mahamadou, 5.

Toure was an eighth-grade student at the Angelo Patri Middle School, which was next door to the Twin Parks building, and Mahamadou was one of at least four siblings caught in the blaze, according to an online fundraising page set up by her aunt, Khadidja Timbaye.

Two other Mahamadou children were treated in critical condition, Timbaye wrote.

According to the medical examiner, all 17 victims died of smoke inhalation. Fire officials say a malfunctioning space heater that had been left on for days sparked the fire.

The remaining 15 victims — all with connections to The Gambia — are expected to have funerals held in the coming days, community leaders told the Bronx Times on Friday. Islamic tradition includes the cleansing and wrapping of the deceased, a process that began on Thursday when bodies were sent to a Queens funeral home. This proceess consists of ghusl, a ritual washing of dead bodies, kafan, or shrouding the body with pieces of cloth, and finally salat al-janazah, a funeral prayer.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at rsequeira@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes. 

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