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Tenants Forced from Homes After Landlord Illegally Removed Fire Escapes

By Meredith Hoffman | June 4, 2012 4:24pm | Updated on June 4, 2012 7:22pm

NEW YORK CITY — Around 200 residents of a University Heights apartment building have been forced out of their homes after their landlord removed the building's fire escapes while repairing the façade, according to officials and city records.

The seven-story building at 2400 Webb Ave., which contains 76 apartments, is not fireproof and does not have a sprinkler system, sources said.

A representative of the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development was at the 72-year-old building on June 2 and noticed that the fire escapes had been removed, tenants and officials said.

"The HPD inspector came and opened my window and gasped, said Yvonne Tyson, a 13-year resident of the building.  "The fire escape was gone, I told him it had been gone for two weeks.

"If there is a fire in the hallway, how are we supposed to get out?"

FDNY Deputy Chief Jay Jonas said after a meeting Monday morning, city officials had little choice but to order the building closed.

"The only viable solution was to vacate the building until new fire escapes could be fabricated," Jonas said.  "This is very serious; there are 76 tenants in the building. We don't take this lightly."

He said he building's owner, Goldfarb Properties, gave "some pretty weak answers" when confronted about the missing fire escapes.

The city's Department of Buildings issued a full vacate order, which gives the landlord 48 hours from Monday afternoon to relocate the tenants, a spokeswoman said.

The department issued a stop work order for the building and issued a violation for "failing to provide a secondary means of egress," she added.

Jonas said Goldfarb Properties would be responsible for finding new housing for the tenants until the new fire escapes are manufactured and installed.

The old fire escapes have been destroyed, according to neighbor Earl Oritheneer, who has one set of fire escape stairs mounted in his backyard.

"He [the contractor] gave me one of the fire escapes and took the others to the dump," Oritheneer said. "It's mine now, it's a souvenir for me."

A spokesman for Goldfarb Properties declined to comment.

With additional reporting by Fred Dreier