ELMHURST — The owner of a building that houses a controversial homeless shelter skipped a safety-violation hearing days before a fire prompted a "chaotic" 2 a.m. evacuation of hundreds of residents, according to witnesses and records.
Steven Berger, who bought the former Pan Am Hotel in 2014 under 7900 Development LLC, failed to appear at an April 27 hearing over the safety violations fire officials cited in a March 10 inspection — shortcomings that included improper fire exits and sub-standard doors and windows, according to city records.
Berger was hit with $30,000 in fines and penalties, which he has not yet paid, Environmental Control Board officials said. He must either pay the hefty fine or reopen the case, an ECB spokeswoman said.
Berger, who also operates other shelters, including the East River Family Shelter, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Days after the missed hearing, the building's fire exits were put to the test when a blaze erupted at Boulevard Family Shelter after 2 a.m. on May 6, according to the FDNY.
Hundreds of residents at the 216-room shelter had to evacuate with only four employees on duty, and many told DNAinfo New York the process was "chaotic."
Fire officials said an unattended candle sparked the blaze, and a spokeswoman with the Department of Homeless Services said the family impacted by the fire was transferred to another facility while the unit was fixed.
The Boulevard Family Shelter opened in June 2014 without notice to the community, sparking outrage from local residents.
Last week, Comptroller Scott Stringer denied operator Samaritan Village’s application to make the emergency shelter permanent, citing issues that include “garbage”-quality food provided for the residents, who don’t have access to a legally required kitchen.
Neither DHS or Samaritan Village responded to requests for comments on the building code violations.