MANHATTAN — Many in New York’s artist community and beyond were familiar with kind of living conditions inside the Oakland warehouse art collective where a fire killed 36 people earlier this month — a reportedly makeshift network of extension cords running through a maze of small rooms and studios in a building without clearly marked or appropriate exits.
In light of that tragedy — and as the cold weather has some New Yorkers turning to potentially dangerous space heaters — the New York-based rental listings platform RentHop did a deep dive into fire safety stats, using the city’s OpenData platform to analyze the number of violations issued to landlords for lack of or improper installation of a smoke detector using a subset of the 311 data.
Bushwick led the city in smoke detector violations, according to the analysis.
“Many of New York’s artist collectives can be found in Bushwick, as well as large warehouses where underground music parties are thrown,” the RentHop report noted.
There was a bright spot, however: The area’s peak of 52 violations in 2011 has since gone down every year to just five violations this year to date.
“Regardless, any number of violations is still reason for concern, as it only takes one fire for a terrifying loss of life and property,” the report added.
More than 6,000 violations have been issued resulting from over 16,000 complaints to 311 since the data set started in January 2010.
“Broken down by borough we saw that the Bronx has the most violations proportionate to the number of rental units, with Brooklyn being close behind,” the report said. “This points to one of two conclusions; landlords of apartments in these boroughs are less concerned with tenants’ safety, or the tenants here are more keen to take notice of and report it. Whatever the reason, it’s a bit concerning.”
New York-based performance artist Anya Liftig was devastated by what happened in Oakland and outraged that landlords allow artists like herself to put themselves and firefighters at risk because of their living conditions.
"Every artist, especially every performance artist I know, has had experience living, staying, creating, and working in a space like this," she wrote on Facebook after the Dec. 2 fire.
"When I moved to Bushwick in 2004 and built out a raw factory space with my partner, this was our reality," she continued. "The fire exits were padlocked with chains to keep us from using them. No fire extinguishers. There were no fire detectors or working sprinklers. Eventually we were tossed out to make way for another round of artists (read people who could pay more.)"
That building at 1717 Troutman St. between Cypress and Seneca avenues has since had a makeover and is an anchor of the Bushwick arts scene with well-established galleries and artists able to pay the high rents, she said.
NYC law requires at least one working smoke detector in all rental units, which must be no further than 15 feet from the entrance to the primary bedroom.