Landlords charged with manslaughter for illegal subdivisions
Two Bensonhurst, Brooklyn landlords were indicted today in the deaths of five tenants at an apartment building the pair had allegedly illegally subdivided, said a statement from Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes today.
Vasilios Gerazounis, 68, and his son, Argyrios Gerazounis, 37, joint owners of 2033 86th Street, were indicted on numerous charges of manslaughter, reckless endangerment and one count of assault stemming from a December 2010 fire that killed five tenants. The fire was caused by arson.
The DA’s statement said that the tenants’ means of egress was blocked due to the illegal conversions at the building, which city records said had one unit each on the second and third floors. The defendants allegedly converted the second floor to two apartments, and the third floor to four. More than 10 people lived on each floor, and the landlord charged by the occupant, rather than for the unit, the indictment says.
“Although the arsonist is responsible for setting the fire, he does not shoulder the blame alone,” Hynes said in the statement. “The landlords share in the responsibility for each of the five deaths and the injuries. They owned, maintained, and made money from a building with illegal subdivisions that blocked tenants’ ability to escape in a deadly fire.”
Similar illegal subdivisions were found at a neighboring property also owned by the defendants, the DA’s office said in the statement.
“The five innocent lives lost in this tragic fire may have been saved if this building had not been illegally converted,” said Department of Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri.
The indictment says that landlords are responsible for providing two means of direct outlet on the second and third floors of a dwelling which they own, and must maintain the exits regardless of who built any obstructions or when they were erected.
“[Illegally subdivided properties] are potential deathtraps, created purely for profit, which put the lives of tenants and firefighters needlessly at risk,” New York City Fire Department Commissioner Salvatore Cassano added. — Guelda Voien