Bronx Building Residents Forced Out Over Missing Fire Escapes

People were told they could only come back to get belongings with a firefighter escort

About 200 residents in a Bronx building were forced out of their homes after the building's owners removed all its fire escapes for a renovation project, leaving the structure unsafe and dangerous, according to officials.

The tenants at the seven-story University Heights building were given vacate notices and orders to leave Monday evening. They had until 6 p.m. Tuesday to gather their belongings and get out, officials said.

Throughout the day Tuesday, residents carried shopping bags and suitcases out of the building.

Perry Jones carried two large suitcases out the front door, walking slowly down the steps. The senior citizen said he recently had hip replacement surgery.

"I don't know how long I'll have to be out of here," he said. "This is no joke."

Residents were told they can come back from time to time to collect or exchange their possessions, but must make an appointment with FDNY and get a firefighter escort.

The city deemed the building at 2400 Webb Ave. dangerous after the fire escapes were taken down over the weekend.

"I got a call from one of my neighbors telling me the building was being evacuated," said Delia Washington. "Not the call you want, especially when you have a disabled mom and an 11-month-old baby."

"We don't know anything," she added. "We don't know where we're going. We don't know when we can come back."

A spokesman for the building's owner, Goldfarb Properties, said it was told all the exterior fire escapes could be removed while the property undergoes renovation. But fire officials said the company never got a permit to do so, and deemed the building unsafe.

"I asked them in the meeting today, 'You have fire protection in this building, and you're taking it away. Why would think that would be good for tenants? '" said Division 7 Deputy Fire Chief J. Jonas. "And he didn't have an answer."

Goldfarb Properties is giving the tenants $840 a week to stay in hotels, the spokesman said. It began dispersing $120 daily vouchers Monday night. It will not ask its tenants for June rent.

Residents found the vouchers insulting.

"In New York, where you going to find a good place for $120? Where?" asked tenant Perry Jones.

Tenants had the option to permanently relocate to a different building owned by Goldfarb Properties, where three months of their rent would be covered, but none took that option. They preferred to stay in their homes.

"There's a certain degree of acclimation to the neighborhood," said Roger Newyear. "We have a beautiful apartment. It fits our family well."

Residents cannot move back in until the fire escapes are replaced, which could take months. Fire officials said Goldfarb Properties has hired a new contractor to replace the fire escapes.

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