NYC Tenants Sue to Get Back Into Building After Massive April Fire

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It has been 170 days since a huge fire tore through a New York City apartment building. That's also how long tenants have been waiting to get back inside.

Tenants of the building on 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens, are now suing for their right to return to their homes and recover their precious belongings, a predicament first reported by The City. The building is still boarded up. Shattered windows can be seen from the outside and seemingly endless ribbons of yellow tape cover the entrance.

Andrew Sokolof Diaz, his wife and their newborn child are among those who have been displaced for nearly six months.

Photos from the FDNY show charred remains of some of the units after flames broke out on April 6. The blaze caused extensive damage but Diaz said he was able to salvage a few items; everything else was destroyed.

Diaz and other families say they were told they can't get back in, and city officials say that's in part because of asbestos abatement. So dozens of tenants are turning to the court, signing on to a petition aimed at helping those displaced.

"A lot of them know that they have things in there that are valuable and replaceable and they know where they are," said Angie Espino, another displaced tenant.

Diaz said the ultimate goal is to help everyone retrieve whatever they can save.

"Moreover, most importantly to prevent their displacement is to have a set timeline that's reasonable in which the repairs will be done so we can return to the building," he said. "These were affordable rent stabilized apartments. This was like the fabric of our community. A lot of people have lived there for many years."

A spokesperson for the building's management didn't have a comment but said he'd be inclined to talk after a scheduled court hearing next month.

Meanwhile, the Department of Buildings said the city will review the lawsuit and declined to comment on pending litigation.

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