EXCLUSIVE: Underground dance dangers in New York City warehouses

Monday, May 22, 2017
EXCLUSIVE: Underground dance dangers in NYC warehouses
Jim Hoffer has the exclusive.

EAST WILLIAMSBURG, Brooklyn (WABC) -- Our undercover investigation into potentially dangerous underground dance raves reveals New York City is falling short on efforts to prevent a "Ghost Ship warehouse" type fire like the one last December in Oakland, California.

We easily bought a ticket to one music event on the internet and its secret location was emailed to us an hour before. That's when 7 On Your Side went undercover and found a warehouse with a vacate order from the city packed with people.

It was near midnight on what appeared to be a deserted street in an industrial Brooklyn neighborhood, but inside a warehouse on Meserole Street, a huge underground electronic dance party was in full swing, Hundreds were dancing to a DJ's techno beat.

We are undercover and immediately notice problems. A narrow hallway was crowded throughout the night with a long-line of ticket buyers. That hallway also served as the main exit, a potentially deadly bottle-neck according to one fire safety expert.

"In a nightclub fire, it's all over in five minutes," Glenn Corbett, fire safety expert, said.

Professor of Fire Science at John Jay College says the narrow hallway could be a classic fire trap.

"There's not a lot of time and need an ability to scramble out of there. You want a path that's wide, well-lit and enough ways to get out," Corbett said.

We noticed two other exits. One had emergency lighting above it, but the door was blocked by a heavy metal barricade. There was also an unmarked door In the back of the dimly lit 5-thousand square foot room. At least two other doorways leading to an exit had wood boards nailed across them blocking their use.

Hoffer: "Should this have been a place where 400 people were gathered?"

Corbett: "Certainly should not have been in that facility without proper inspection being done first, that's a given."

Last December, a fire at an underground electronic music event in an Oakland, California warehouse killed 36 people. A firetrap of doorways and rooms that illegally housed artists and likely added to the death toll.

PHOTOS: 36 victims of Oakland warehouse fire identified

Like Oakland, the Brooklyn warehouse had no permit for its music event and a history of safety violations. The owner Hoffman and Sons Realty owes $600-thousand in unpaid fines for previously having illegally rented single rooms and for "failure to provide unobstructed exit passageways." The city put a full vacate order on the building that still existed at the time of this dance two weeks ago. By law, no one should have been in this been inside yet hundreds danced through the night without the city, the police, nor fire department ever knowing.

Hoffer: "How does something like this exist in New York City in 2017?"

Corbett: "That's a good question....the fact we saw what happened in Oakland saw the bad fire, it should have been a wakeup call."

Getting tickets to this underground rave was easy to do on the internet. Tickets were around $30 dollars, the location kept secret or TBA "to be announced." An hour or two before the dance, its promoter sent an email to every ticket buyer revealing the Brooklyn location.

See more video from our hidden camera investigation here:

Hidden camera video from an underground dance party.

Days after the dance party, we went back undercover during which time the warehouse leasing broker, Marble Arch Management thinking we were potential renters gave us tour.

In daylight, we saw past evidence of carved-up single-rooms and doorways still blocked. The manager admitting it wasn't up to code.

Chaim, Marble Arch Management: "We didn't do nothing up to code because once we can have the tenant, we will do it. We will make it up to code for sure."

Hoffer: "But you've already had events?"

Chaim: "I guess I didn't make it up to code because it was just for one night."

We finally told him we were from Channel 7 and our tour abruptly ended.

Chaim: "Okay so please get out."

Hoffer: "You don't want to answer the questions?"

Chaim: "I want you out of my property off my property right now thank you."

The FDNY tells us they have fire inspectors that go out at night and look for these "illegal" raves.

A Deputy Chief for the NYPD told us their Intelligence Bureau has a unit that "scrubs the internet for jump-up parties or any kind of unlicensed parties that attract large crowds."

We also heard from the Buildings Department which told us they issued a vacate order on this Brooklyn warehouse due to what a spokesman called "immediate life-safety hazards." The spokesman saying under those conditions, the city would have never issued a permit for a rave.