Tenants return to apartments looted, items missing weeks after Sunnyside building fire

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Thursday, January 4, 2024
CeFaan Kim has more from Sunnyside.

SUNNYSIDE, Queens (WABC) -- After a raging fire gutted a six-story Queens apartment building just before Christmas, tenants were given three hours to return home Thursday and see what they could salvage.

On top of all the other issues they are facing, some tenants returned to find their homes looted -- jewelry and cash, all stolen.

"They were very selective with what they took," said Kathy Kim, whose apartment was affected. "They didn't just do this. It was like the last expensive supplement that I had, my mom's jade necklace from Korea, in my pile of cheap jewelry my one antique wedding ring. And my daughter's piggy bank was completely raided."

Kim is just one of the roughly 450 tenants who lost her home in Sunnyside, Queens to the massive fire last month.

She's also among the countless tenants who say their homes were looted.

The NYPD was called to the scene Thursday to collect evidence.

This came as tenants were given just three hours to get back inside for the first time since the fire and clear out all of their belongings.

The landlord says the three-hour window are for safety reasons, and that they hired movers to help them.

However, tenants say they don't seem to be there to really help "them."

"They're packers. There's some stuff that we were hoping could sort of do the industrial Seran wrap and like have a bunch of guys bring down the stairs as is," said Kim. "But I don't think, they say they're not going to be able to carry a bunch of our stuff down."

"The packers are really just sorters I would say," said New York City Council Member Julie Won. "Because what they're going to do no matter what, whether a resident claims their items or not, they're going to empty out your apartments and throw it in the trash. What they're doing is giving you three hours to say, 'what do you want to keep? Because the rest of it will end up in the trash.'"

As for the fire, FDNY's Fire Marshals determined a renovation contractor using an unauthorized blowtorch to remove lead paint started the blaze.

Meanwhile for Spanish speaking residents, tenants say they're getting even less help from their landlord.

"They are not translating anything to the Spanish speaking tenants in this building," said Jen Rosero-Arias.

Tenants say there are dozens of Spanish speaking neighbors not getting phone calls or emails returned.

A spokesperson for building management said, "A&E has Spanish speaking staff that has been directly engaged resident by resident by email, by phone and in person on a daily basis since the fire."

However, tenants say otherwise.

"This is discrimination against them, and they feel that the landlord is trying to remove them from their home," said Arlette Faele. "And that's what they feel that this is actually a way for them to be out on the street. And what do you, a 83- and 90-year-old lady? They get depressed and what will happen to them?"

Tenants say to add insult to injury, the non-rent-controlled tenants, which accounts for about 40% of the building, received notices their rents will significantly increase after renovations.

Building management said that was an auto generated message sent in error.

The councilmember though says when tenants ask point blank if their rents won't increase, or if they do by how much, they aren't getting any answers.


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