New York lawmakers on Monday said they plan to introduce legislation requiring federally funded housing to have heat sensors in an attempt to hold landlords accountable following the Jan. 9 Bronx fire that killed 17 people.
Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx) — who along with Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) will propose the legislation in Congress — said heat sensors would enable real-time reporting of heating levels in each apartment and "flag" when there’s "insufficient heat and hot water."
"We must harness the power of technology, like heat sensors, to hold landlords accountable for delivering sufficient heat and hot water because the residents of the Bronx deserve nothing less than safe, decent affordable housing," Torres said during a news conference outside the apartment building where the blaze occurred.
If passed, Torres said, the federal government would be able to suspend rental payment to a landlord who failed to install a heat sensor.
The fire at the Twin Parks North West apartment building in the Tremont section of the Bronx started after an electric space heater brought in for additional heat malfunctioned in a bedroom of a duplex's lower level, FDNY officials said.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who joined Gillibrand and Torres outside the Bronx building, supports the heat sensor bill, which follows a recently-expired pilot program instituted in the city.
"Residents should not have to use heaters to supplement the necessary" heat, Adams said, adding that "we could do a better job with this amazing technology."
The blaze was limited to a duplex and an adjoining hallway, but thick, suffocating smoke filled the 19-story building after safety doors failed to automatically self-close as required by New York City law. All the victims died from smoke inhalation, according to the city medical examiner. Funeral services were held Wednesday and Sunday.
In addition, Gillibrand said she and Torres are working to get federal resources to install sprinklers in older buildings such as the Twin Parks complex that were "grandfathered in" and have no sprinklers.
"We should never see this kind of devastation again," she said.
Two days after the blaze, a married couple who live in the building, Rosa Reyes and Felix Martinez, filed a lawsuit seeking class-action status against the owners in Bronx State Supreme Court.
The owners had "actual notice of defective conditions" while the plaintiffs and others who lived there had "no negligence," according to the suit.
The suit contends that building owners failed to ensure that the self-closing door apparatus worked and that smoke detectors functioned properly. It alleges that heat was not adequate in the building and smoke alarms would "go off all the time."
In response, the ownership group, Bronx Park Phase III Preservation, LLC, has said it was "devastated" by the tragedy and was "cooperating fully with the Fire Department and other agencies as they continue to investigate."
Salim Drammeh, president of the Gambian Youth Organization, a local nonprofit that has helped victims in the building, said the Jan. 9 fire "was a tragedy that did not need to happen."
"We want to reiterate that this is not the fault of anyone who lived in the building," he said.