UPDATED Feb. 9, 3:15 p.m.
As fire marshals continue to investigate a deadly house fire in Richmond Hill on Thursday night, the city’s Buildings Department says that the residence had a history of flagrant building code violations, including illegal conversions.
More than 60 firefighters responded to a 911 call at 11:02 p.m. on Feb. 8 that broke out on the second floor of a home on 102nd Street off Jamaica Avenue, Fire Department sources said. That’s just around the corner from the headquarters of Engine Company
After putting the fire out, police said, firefighters searched the home and found Ines Parra, 48, unconscious and unresponsive on the second floor. Paramedics rushed her to Jamaica Hospital, where she was pronounced dead on arrival.
Parra resided at the home, which Department of Buildings records noted had a partial vacate order for numerous unresolved building code violations, including an illegal subdivision in the cellar. A full vacate order was issued on Friday morning after firefighters reported structural instability resulting from fire damage.
On Friday, a DOB spokesperson told QNS that the agency first issued the partial vacate order in 2008 after inspectors found that the cellar had been illegally converted into an apartment. Violations were also issued “for illegally converting the 2-family home into a 3-family home and also for illegal gas, electrical and plumbing work that was performed without a permit.”
The vacate order only applied to the cellar, and residents were still allowed to reside on the first two floors of the building.
Moreover, the DOB database identified 37 open and unresolved Environmental Control Board (ECB) violations dating back to 2008, with penalties totaling in excess of $596,000. This includes two open violations for conducting construction work without a permit. There were also nine open DOB violations, including one dating back to 2003, for various issues including failing to resolve outstanding ECB violations.
All these violations, however, didn’t convince the property owner to revert the house back to code. In fact, according to the DOB spokesperson, the violations became even more egregious over time.
“DOB followed up with multiple inspections of the property. Additional violations were issued when it was determined that the building owner was continuing to allow people to live in the cellar, in defiance of the vacate order,” the spokesperson said. “Each time DOB found people living in the vacated cellar, DOB reissued the vacate order, resulting in additional ECB violations and potential fines levied against the owner, and offering those living in the illegal apartments relocation assistance through the American Red Cross.”
Then in 2012, inspectors found that the legal 2-family residence had been illegally converted into a 5-family home. “Additional violations were issued, and the vacate order was again reissued when tenants were found to be living illegally in the vacated cellar,” the DOB spokesperson noted.
The Buildings Department is still investigating the matter, and the Fire Department continues its investigation into what sparked Thursday’s deadly blaze.