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Grand Street Tenants Displaced by Fire Inch Closer to Going Home

289 Grand Street, shown in background, was damaged by a fire that forced the demolition of an adjacent building in May.
289 Grand Street, shown in background, was damaged by a fire that forced the demolition of an adjacent building in May.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Hedlund

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

CHINATOWN — A group of tenants left homeless by a devastating blaze on Grand Street are continuing efforts to return to to their fire-ravaged building months after being evacuated.

The residents of 289 Grand St. — which was heavily damaged after a seven-alarm fire ripped through an adjacent apartment building on April 11, leaving an elderly man dead — have been trying to return to the building to collect possessions and eventually move back in.

The owner, Wong’s Grand Street Realty, initially tried to get the mostly rent-regulated tenants to surrender their leases by informing them some of the six-story building had to be torn down.

However, the Department of Buildings declared the structure not in danger of collapsing, and now residents are increasing their efforts to return after months of waiting.

A housing court recently said that the landlord needed to provide documents exhibiting "economic infeasibility" as a reason not to repair the damaged building.

According to a June 24 housing court decision, the landlord objected to providing information regarding its insurance coverage or records of the building’s condition both before and after the blaze.

"That’s the standard argument that we’ve known the building owners to use," said Chris Kui, executive director of Asian Americans for Equality, of the "economic infeasibiilty" claim.

Earlier this year, AAFE and local politicians were successful in a similar push to return tenants to another Chinatown building on James Street after a fire killed three people there last year.

Nonetheless, an attorney for the landlord at 289 Grand St. said independent engineering reports show the building is not stable and could not realistically be repaired for another three years.

"Our client has an unsafe building, and they simply want to rebuild and move on with their lives," said Adam Leitman Bailey, the lawyer for Wong’s Grand Street Realty.

"I think it’s in everybody’s best interest to find a new home," he added, noting that some tenants have already taken buyouts from the owner.

Kui claimed the landlord wants to eventually turn the building into condos or sell it for a large profit instead of repairing as is it for the rent-regulated tenants.

"They’ve already lost a lot of possessions," he said. "It shouldn’t be a situation in a tragedy like this where they’re going to lose a permanent home as well.