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Following December fire, Queens residents frustrated with landlord's handling of situation

Following December fire, Queens tenants frustrated with landlord's handling of situation
Following December fire, Queens tenants frustrated with landlord's handling of situation 02:15

NEW YORK -- It was just days before Christmas in 2023 when flames tore through the apartments at 43-09 47th Ave., in Sunnyside, Queens.

Fire marshals said the five-alarm blaze was set accidentally by a contractor, who was illegally using a blowtorch to remove lead paint. Tenants in more than 100 units were displaced.

"We've lost everything that we had that was stable in our lives, and so, we're just bouncing around and trying to do the best we can," Alberto Duque said.

According to their lawyers, only a minority of tenants accepted an offer from the owner of the building, A&E Real Estate, to continue paying rent for short-term lodging in apartments across Queens and as far as the Bronx. Those leases expire after six months, which will also mean an end to rent stabilization for some.

Alison Kappel has multiple sclerosis and depends on a wheelchair. She's paying rent to A&E for an apartment with no grab bars in the bathroom.

"I've spent the last several weeks sending countless emails," she said.

Her requests for a contractor to install the bars have gone unanswered.

"I'm not asking for a penthouse apartment. I'm asking to be able to use a bathroom. That's all," she said.

Brett Gallaway of McLaughlin & Stern is representing many of the tenants. He argues the fire was the result of the landlord's own negligence.

"A&E can either, A, provide these people with extended leases on the temporary housing that they have or, B, provide them with a subsidy," he said.

Having rejected the short-term housing offer, Lauren Koenig is sleeping on a friend's couch.

"You can't cry in a comfortable place," she said.

She believes the real estate company has shown its true colors.

"You know what the color of A&E's heart is? Green. Green for greed and green for money because that's all they care about," she said.

She is joining other tenants in calling for a construction timeline.

"We want to be back in our homes," she said. "They need to make it a priority to get us back in there as fast as possible."

In a statement, a spokesperson for A&E Real Estate told CBS New York:

"This is painstaking work. The building is now under the active supervision of an engineer approved by the Department of Buildings who is closely working with City agencies. The engineer's first priority is to stabilize the building to prevent any further damage and to make it safe enough for wider assessment and repairs. Once we have that engineer's final report, we can update everyone so we can all plan for what comes next and what will be feasible."

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