In 2002, 8-year-old Jashawn Parker died in a Bronx apartment fire. The building accumulated nearly 400 code violations that went unaddressed by the landlord. Almost two decades and 17 attempts later, a law to prevent another incident like this was passed by both the Assembly and Senate and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The legislation will go into effect on Dec. 11.
New York State Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz and State Senator Robert Jackson held a virtual press conference on Nov. 16, to announce and celebrate the passage of a newly signed tenant protection law (S.3320/A.2625). The two were joined by representatives from the Legal Aid Society, and community groups such as Take Root Justice and the Fordham-Bedford Housing Corporation.
The newly signed law establishes a 60-day limit for landlords to make court-ordered repairs on their properties. Before the passage of this law, ambiguous legal language provided no such time restraint for landlords to do so, allowing landlords to take as long as they wanted to make repairs.
The new law also prohibits landlords from applying for a consent order more than once. Consent orders, used in this sense, allow landlords to apply for a time extension to make these repairs, but this extension must be approved by the court.
The passage of this law represents a victory for Dinowitz, as he has been working to pass such a law for years.
“We passed this bill time after time over the years in the New York State Assembly, but it never passed the New York State Senate until this year, thanks to Sen. Jackson and his colleagues,” Dinowitz said.
Watch the press conference here:
Dinowitz’s persistence for this law stems from a 2002 apartment fire that killed then-8-year-old Jashawn Parker. Parker lived with his family in an apartment located at 3569 DeKalb Ave. in the Northwest Bronx, located in Dinowitz’s district. The apartment building suffered from extreme neglect at the hand of its landlord, with 387 housing code violations at the time of the fire.
An issue with the apartment’s electrical wiring was the cause of the fire, a fire which Dinowitz said “should have never happened.” The ambiguous New York state law at the time made it so that landlords had to respond to court ordered repairs in a “reasonable amount of time,” a stipulation that allowed the landlord of that apartment to ignore these hundreds of violations until disaster struck.
Dinowitz described in the press conference the conditions of the apartment, which he had visited in 2002. Dinowitz said that the state of the apartment left him horrified.
“You would walk right into the building, there were no locked doors,” Dinowitz said. “I walked up the steps and, believe it or not, on the staircase, there were actually steps missing, if you took a misstep you could fall through. If you walk up to the roof, you walk right on to the roof there were no locked doors there either, and there was evidence of significant drug use taking place on the roof.”
Dinowitz also described serious defects in the infrastructure of the apartments themselves with many apartments missing chunks of the ceiling or floors.
Sen. Jackson spoke after Dinowitz, thanking him for his leadership and repeated efforts towards passing the law that he claims, “should have been passed decades ago, in my opinion.”
At the time of the fire, Jackson sat on the New York City Council, and he and a colleague introduced a City Council resolution in response to the fire, which passed. In spite of this, similar protections were not codified under state law in Albany until Nov. 11 of this year. The first attempt at passing such a law was in 2003.
Sen. Jackson directed blame for the delay in the law’s passage on Republicans in the New York State Senate.
“On a continuous basis, year after year after year, as Assemblymember Dinowitz indicated, since he introduced the bill in 2003, [the bill] passed the assembly every single year but went nowhere in the New York State Senate,” Sen. Jackson said. “It was being blocked by my colleagues, Republican colleagues, in the New York State Senate, let me call it like it is.”
Jackson’s complaints do hold some merit; the bill passed the Senate this year with 43 senators voting aye and 17 voting nay. Only four of the 43 State Senators who voted yes were Republicans, and all 17 who voted against the bill were Republicans.
“Every year for the past 18 years I have fought to get some semblance of justice for Jashawn Parker. This law will not bring back the life of that young child, but it will hopefully prevent harm for countless others in years to come,” Dinowitz said.
“I have no patience for any landlord who claims this will cause them financial harm – these are things that every property owner has an obligation to do, and it is only because of their continued negligence that tenants had to seek help from Housing Court at all.”