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Chinatown Residents Back In Rent-Controlled Apartments Following 2010 Fire

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- It's home sweet home again for several families in Chinatown.

As CBS 2's Weijia Jiang reported Thursday, a raging fire ripped through their apartments and disrupted their lives more than three years ago, but their biggest battle had nothing to do with the flames.

One of the worst fires ever in Chinatown ravaged three apartment buildings in April 2010 and left 200 people homeless.

Tenant Yung Li lived with her son in New Jersey for more than three years, but told Jiang she's thrilled to be back home on Grand Street.

Li and several neighbors recently moved back to their newly repaired building.

The building is rent regulated just like before the fire.

"To have my place back, it's emotional. I cry a lot in there and I just stare at the sunset, I stare at the sunrise. I don't think I'll ever get over that apartment," tenant Elizabeth Taylor told Jiang.

But the landlord had other plans, arguing a renovation would be too expensive. He filed paperwork to demolish the building. However, if he built new units, they would no longer be rent stabilized.

After a two-year legal battle, the tenants won.

"They have rights. These tenants, they persisted. It took them a couple years to move back, but they have a right to move back," City Councilwoman Margaret Chin told Jiang.

Other victims of the fire were not so fortunate.

The flames ripped through three buildings, two of which had to be knocked down for safety. All the people who lived in those buildings were forced to find new homes.

Long-time tenant Stephen Vendola, 84, said he's blessed he was not one of those permanently displaced.

"I love it. This apartment, which I've had for 50 years, has good vibes. It has good spirit," Vendola told Jiang.

Fair housing advocates hope the victory sets a strong precedent for other cases involving rent-stabilized apartments.

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