A fire that killed three people in the Bronx revealed the dangers of illegally subdivided apartments, but what is less widely known is the building's cloudy ownership status.
At dispute is a question over who was actually responsible for maintaining the property.
For at least three years, banks had been buying and selling the mortgage in a protracted foreclosure, while neighbors watched squatters move in.
“The banks’ story is it doesn’t concern them when there are squatters or illegal activity but they’re constantly aware, because I’ve called them and others have as well," said neighbor Chancy Marsh, who lives next door.
It is the latest plague of the housing crisis.
Banks that made foolish loans foreclose only to find themselves "slumlord millionaires," or lenders that took blighted and often dangerous properties away from distressed mortgage holders.
NBC New York surveyed homes in the process of bank foreclosure all over the Bronx, and found structure after structure plastered with Environmental Control Board violation tickets.
In some cases, the tickets are addressed to the landlords who lost their properties, but in the case of 794 Freeman St., the ticket is addressed to a bank. Inside nearby 798 Freeman St., some residents haven’t been paying rent at all.
While foreclosure drags on there, neighbors say there is no building manager to take out the trash.
“We have a rat infestation as we speak because of the garbage that’s on the side of the building and it’s coming into our house,” said Stephanie Reyes, who lives next door.
The frustration is beginning to boil over among residents who live in distressed buildings. In March, dozens of Bronx tenants stormed a local bank branch that owns a portfolio of failed mortgages.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is trying to help those tenants and thousands of other renters who are stuck in foreclosure limbo.
Quinn wants the city to adopt a list of pre-approved financial receivers who promise to fix up buildings while lenders look for new buyers.
“So that way, in that middle step from going into foreclosure and being owned by the bank before you’re sold to someone who can fix up the building, your life doesn’t continue to be a living hell,” Quinn said.