Tenants of Bronx fire file $3B lawsuit against property owners, city

Local 2507 Union President Oren Barzilay believes that inspectors would have flagged the malfunctioning doors — which caused the fire to spread quickly throughout the complex causing eight children and nine adults to die of smoke inhalation — for repairs. 
Photo Adrian Childress

Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC, the property owners of the Twin Parks North West complex that was ablaze on Sunday  — resulting in the deaths of 17 people, including eight children, and the displacement of dozens of families — are now defendants in a $3 billion class action lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday in Bronx Supreme Court by two tenants of the now-disarrayed Fordham Heights apartment building, 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, 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. A related filing from the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Robert Vilensky, is a notice of claim against various city officials and agencies that include former Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, the Department of Buildings, the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development, and Housing Commissioner Melanie La Rocca.

That suit states that everyone who was affected by Sunday’s fire and joins in the class action lawsuit should be awarded “$1 billion each” because city officials are also “responsible” for the tragedy. According to the notice of claim, the shutting device on the self-closing apartment doors “become rusty over time and the springs on the door returns need to be replaced over time.”

Furthermore, the notice blames city officials for failing to make sure that those devices were replaced or functional before the fire.

Sunday’s fire, which broke out around 11 a.m. and required the response of 200 firefighters and emergency personnel, was caused by a space heater that had been left on for far too long, fire officials say. However, various tenants have stated that the building owners did not address a backlog of residential concerns including but not limited to, lack of heat, lack of hot water, and poor qualitative conditions in the building which led to common usage of space heaters throughout the complex.

Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC is comprised of a consortium of developers — Belveron Partners, the LIHC Investment Group and The Camber Property Group.

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.

The group purchased the 52-year-old property in 2020, in a $160 million deal. The deal included eight buildings and a total of 1,200 units at an average price of $133,300, and tax credits from the state. Additionally, one of the owners Rick Gropper was a member of Mayor Eric Adams’ transition team for housing. Adams took office in January.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.