Questions surround firefighter landlord's apartments

May 20, 2011 8:23:02 PM PDT
It's turning out to be another bad year for deadly fires in illegal apartments in the city. No matter how glaring and dangerous the building violations rarely is anyone held accountable.

Hoffer: Why not talk to us Mr. Mayo?
Mayo: About what?
Hoffer: Do you have illegal apartments in your basement?
Mayo: No
Hoffer: Then what are these?

The last time we investigated New York City firefighter John Mayo, he denied making money renting illegally-converted apartments even though our undercover camera caught his brother ready to rent one of Mayo's carved up dwellings to the first one who came up with the cash.

"It's first come, first serve. I got one room left and he's looking at a room and you're looking at a room. When I do like this, whoever put the money in my hand, that's whose getting the room," his brother said.

That was six years ago, and since then the number of deaths from fires in illegal, overcrowded, apartments continue to mount. In the last month alone, five more deaths in the never-ending cycle of fires caused by the demand for affordable housing, weak laws and runaway greed.

"The real disgrace here is the building owner who puts profits ahead of people's lives by illegally converting apartments to make more money," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

But nothing ever seems to change. Just a few days ago, we went back to check out John Mayo's rental properties to find conditions worse than when we first investigated back in 2005.

Hoffer: This from a fire perspective doesn't seem safe?
Tenant: It's not. It's a fire hazard.

We found apartment bedrooms turned into single room rentals. Wires hang from the ceiling, strung from the electrical box in one room through the apartment and out the window to another dwelling next door. One tenant who did not want to be identified says she pays about $700 a month to Mr. Mayo for one of these rooms.

"He definitely should know. He's an ex firefighter, he's retired firefighter; he should know everything about these buildings being up to code, and not up to code," she said.

In another one of his buildings, we were shown an apartment with broken smoke detectors, an exit blocked by debris, and three rooms with locked doors, behind each one lives a family, including one with a child.

"You have a lady that lives here and a Spanish guy moved in here last week," tenant John Chandler said.

Numerous violations for "single room occupancy" suggest the Building's Department is well-aware of the hazardous and illegal conditions in John Mayo's apartments even though inspectors indicate that on nearly 30 different visits, they failed to gain access, but apparently never sought to get a court warrant allowing them inside. When we visited, tenants were eager to show us the problems:

Hoffer: If a building inspector knocked on your door now?
Chandler: I'd let them right in.

As for finding John Mayo, just as we found out five years ago, he's tough to find. As tough as finding a safe, affordable apartment.

Chandler: "We couldn't find an apartment so we had to take what was offered to us.
Hoffer: Even if unsafe?
Chandler: "You have to do what you have to do until you can find good housing."

The Buildings Department has fined the retired firefighter $30-thousand dollars for blocked exits and for having illegal apartments. Those fines have gone unpaid for nearly a year.

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