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Bronx High-Rise Fire: Some City Residents Say They Have No Choice But To Use Space Heaters On Brutally Cold Days

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The Bronx apartment building fire has raised concerns about the use of space heaters.

But with bone-chilling temperatures and little to no heat in some buildings, many residents say they are left with few other options, CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas reported Tuesday.

"The ice box, this is like a freezer box in here," Carol George said, referring to her bedroom. "I plug in this electric heater on the bed to let it warm, a heated blanket, and then I will put my heater on, my space heater."

READ MORESource: Several Space Heaters Were In Bronx Apartment Where Deadly Blaze Started, Including One That Ran For Several Days

George, of Melrose, said the building turns the radiators on and off sporadically, often forcing her to seek other ways to stay warm.

"You can see I taped it, myself," George said.

To keep the draft out, she taped plastic and Red Cross blankets to the window.

"We are freezing. We are humans. Even the animals get better treatment than some of us that are tenants," George said.

George is not alone. A map obtained by CBS2 shows dark red in areas with the highest number of people using supplemental heating in their homes in 2017, with a concentration of more than 20% in northern Manhattan and the Bronx.

Watch Aundrea Cline-Thomas' report -- 

"Unfortunately, in New York City and in many other places, tenants need to enforce their own rights," said Stephanie Costa, senior staff attorney for Bronx Legal Services.

From Oct. 1 to May 31, when the outside temperatures dip, landlords are required to keep the temperature inside at 68 degrees during the day and 62 degrees at night.

"Call 311 not just once, call them more than once. Call them on cold days," Costa said.

George said she documents her numerous calls to 311, but added, still, nothing has changed. So when investigating Sunday's apartment building fire in Fordham Heights, Rep. Ritchie Torres said, "We have to address both the immediate and deeper causes of the fire."

The investigation cannot stop at answering if a space heater was to blame, but also question if residents had any other choice.

The son of a resident in that building tells CBS2 on cold nights, heat is an issue.

"Once the wind hits this building, forget it. Doesn't matter how much heat you have, it's still gonna hit you, the cold," Luis Rosa said.

READ MOREVigils Planned For Victims Of Bronx High-Rise Fire, As FDNY Investigation Focuses On Self-Closing Doors

The city is aware of the complaints at George's apartment complex and has issued management an order to repair, according to its website.

CBS2's calls to the management office were not returned.

Susan Hoffman says she's constantly bundled up in her Harlem apartment due to inadequate heat.

"I'm inside dressed like this. I have three shirts on, two pairs of socks," she told CBS2's Jenna DeAngelis.

Sunday, she had no heat as the temperature inside dropped to 66 degrees. She says she alerted her landlord at the Dunbar Apartments in an email.

"It was about two and a half hours before the fire started in the Bronx. I said, 'I don't want to lose my home due to a faulty space heater,'" Hoffman said. "That's a fear of mine, is I have to worry about what are my neighbors doing to keep warm."

Hoffman feels the city can do more to help residents by re-examining the heat requirements in residential buildings.

"Sixty-two at night and 68 during the day is not adequate, and there's too many landlords that are only providing that," she said. "It's not adequate heat for when it's 18 degrees outside."

A spokesperson for Dunbar Property Management sent CBS2 the following statement:

"The City's standards for heat are to maintain 68 degrees during the day and 62 degrees at night, but we ensure that the average temperatures at Dunbar are always above 70 degrees. When very cold days are coming up, we prepare by increasing the heat leading up to them, and actively monitor the temperature throughout the day.If residents reach out to us with concerns, we immediately dispatch a technician to do a heat inspection in their unit to make sure the temperature is above 70 degrees.This winter, our management team will also be doing door-to-door inspections to speak to our residents about proper heat and fire safety protocols and best practices."

READ MOREIn Wake Of Deadly Bronx Blaze, FDNY Offers Safety Guidance To Residents Living In Fireproof And Non-Fireproof Buildings

Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro addressed how to properly use space heaters Tuesday.

"Plug it directly into a wall, not an extension cord. Keep it at least three feet from anything combustible, and don't leave it on overnight," he said.

Those instructions were echoed by Glenn Corbett, associate professor of fire science at John Jay College, who suggests buildings with heating issues take a proactive approach by providing the tools to the tenants.

"'So they go out, purchase a space heater, buy the modern ones that have all of the safety features in them, and then distribute them to the tenants during the wintertime to use, but, most importantly, to educate the people," Corbett said.

Many city residents who spoke to CBS2 feel it's time to make a change.

"We've been complaining for years and nobody does anything, and this [fire] has to happen for somebody to notice," Bronx resident Rosalind Louis said.

CBS2 reached out to the city to discuss heating requirements, and we're waiting to hear back.

CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas contributed to this report.

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