When the news broke that a terrible fire had broken out at 15 Morris St. on Friday, City Solicitor Keith Slattery – head of the Problem Properties Team – immediately turned on the television.
After watching video on TV, he was relieved to find there was no loss of life, and he was also relieved to hear the wailing of the smoke detectors.
That’s because only a few months ago – when the City first began clamping down on the property owner of the home for code violations and illegal apartments – there was absolutely no fire protection system.
“This property was on our radar screen for a long time,” said Slattery on Monday. “There has been illegal lodging and renting out rooms. When we first went in the property about six months ago, there wasn’t even a fire protection system – no working smoke detectors. So, when I turned on the TV and heard the smoke detectors wailing, I felt good that maybe we might have prevented someone from getting seriously hurt or worse. I was happy we crossed our ‘T’s and dotted our ‘I’s’ on this one. Maybe the Code Enforcement Team’s work avoided a tragedy here. All the work we have done is helping. Now we want to step it up.”
Mayor Carlo DeMaria was immediately on the phone Friday in the aftermath of the fire and said that, despite the great efforts already, he wanted more enforcement on illegal units and code violations.
Now, the City is embarking on a collaborative effort and they have sent out letters to landlords throughout the City asking for cooperation in the wake of Friday’s fire and injuries.
“We will be using all necessary measures to make sure our residents, fire and police personnel are safe,” said the mayor. “These measures include going door to door, conducting annual inspections, taking tips on illegal units and following up on problem properties. Our goal is educate and inform property owners of their responsibilities, and to save lives.”
Slattery said they had done numerous inspections on the property, and owner Muddassir Bari has been cooperative in correcting the matters.
In fact, Slattery said, they received their 12th and final letter from the City the day before the fire saying that the final inspection had been satisfactory.
“We had just approved the fire equipment in the house,” said Slattery.
He said that having 19 people displaced from the two-family home was a sign that overcrowding did still exist there.
“It’s an issue – the illegal lodging,” he said. “We find it all the time. It’s a priority of the mayor because it creates such unsafe conditions. We want to work now collaboratively with property owners to get rid of these situations. One injured firefighter is one too many. One injured resident is one too many.”