Vowing action in response to the deadly Twin Parks tower fire in The Bronx, two top Democratic officials say they’ll press bills in Washington to require federal oversight at tens of thousands of New York City apartments.
Standing outside the Fordham Heights apartment tower, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-The Bronx) on Tuesday proposed a four-point attack to enhance safety in residential buildings that receive federal subsidies.
Twin Parks is among them. The Jan. 9 blaze resulted in multiple deaths after a space heater sparked flames in one apartment and smoke spread throughout the 19-story building because two doors were left open, despite state and local laws requiring they automatically shut. All those who perished died of smoke inhalation, the city medical examiner ruled.
The proposed legislation adds specific safety requirements and federal supervision. Currently Twin Parks, where most tenants receive federal rent subsidy, is inspected regularly by a state housing agency and as needed by city inspectors when tenants file complaints.
The proposed laws would require owners of any building that receives federal funding to ensure doors spring closed throughout their properties.
Stating that the tragedy “is a crisis that extends well beyond Twin Parks,” Torres cited a recent investigation by THE CITY found more than 18,000 unresolved door violations racked up in recent years across the five boroughs.
“Local enforcement is a necessary but insufficient condition. Federal enforcement is required,” he said.
FDNY Battalion Chief John Sarrocco, the Bronx borough commander, agreed that the key to eliminating open doors — which create a chimney effect that sends smoke and fire throughout buildings — is ensuring the laws get applied.
“I think that there should be more enforcement,” he said when asked about the scope of the open door violations. Landlord “should be signing off on a weekly and monthly basis that every door’s been checked so they’re responsible for maintaining those doors.”
The legislation Torres and Schumer plan to file would withhold federal funds from landlords who fail to maintain working self-closing doors and sprinkler systems. And space heaters used in these buildings would have to have an automatic shutoff feature.
“Withholding rental payment is the most powerful tool we have,” Torres said. “There’s nothing like withholding money from landlords to inspire them to follow the law.”
The proposed measure would also empower the U.S. Fire Safety Administration to track fires for research and training, research they say will provide useful data to improve overall fire safety in residential buildings across the nation.
Schumer said the proposed laws “take the horrible lesson we learned from what happened here to make sure this doesn’t happen again.” And he made a point of honoring the families who lost loved ones in the blaze, recounting the searing image of 17 coffins at a community funeral held last week.
“We’re here to push on to make sure that the sights we saw with the 17 coffins we’ll never have to see — that no one in New York or America will ever have to see those coffins again coming off from a fire like this,” he said.