Manhattan apartment residents blocked from retrieving their belongings for months after blaze

MURRAY HILL, Manhattan — Terrified residents fled from their Manhattan apartment building as it was engulfed in flames, leaving behind all their belongings. Months later, they still hadn't been allowed back for their possessions.

The fire broke out on Feb. 8 at 1596 Second Avenue. Keith Moore says he could barely see in front of him as he hurried down the five flights of stairs from his apartment.

“I opened the door and it was filled with smoke,” Moore said.

Although the fire did not spread to his apartment, Keith and his husband, along with all the other tenants, were forced to evacuate.  They didn’t take much with them because Keith says he was assured they could come back the following day to retrieve their possessions.  Five months later, they contacted PIX11 for help, desperate to get their belongings out of the apartment.

The building is owned by Elk Investors, a Manhattan based real estate company. The tenants say the landlord blamed the NYC Department of Buildings for the delay in allowing tenants back into the building, citing the vacate order issued by DOB.

However, a DOB official says while the vacate order would prevent the apartments from being  occupied, it would not prevent the tenants from retrieving their belongings.  The DOB blames the holdup on Elk Investors for failing to submit the required engineer’s report on the condition of the building following the fire.

After PIX contacted the DOB, the department issued a violation to Elk Investors on May 23 for failing to submit that report. A week later, they still has not submitted a report. Another violation was issued.  We called and visited the offices of Elk Investors on Fifth Avenue and 41st Street, but no one would speak with us.

Finally, after PIX11 got involved, the engineer’s report was submitted to the DOB. It concludes the building is “structurally safe and stable”. The DOB says tenants can retrieve their belongings, as long as the landlord provides interior lighting and security at the building to escort tenants to the apartments.

An attorney for Elk Investors says it has hired a fire restoration company and is “coordinating with the former tenants to have their items removed for them in as safe a manner as possible.”   So the problem appears to be on its way to a resolution. It’s been a long time coming.

By the way, the DOB says it issued another violation to the landlord on June 27 for “failure to apply for a permit application to make the required repairs to the building”.

If you’ve got a story idea, email me at whatashame@pix11.com.