Thursday, March 6, 2008

A Letter I Haven't Had The Nerve To Send

Dear Ms. Ahlswede,

As I was searching the internet for more information on the fire at Paradise Gardens Apartments in December 2006, I came across the article you posted on your website. As a tenant of that building who found herself homeless after the fire, I want to tell you that I am deeply offended and thoroughly angered by your statements.

Allow me to elaborate.
You said: “Why did this conflagration occur? Smoke detectors absent? No. Fire extinguishers unavailable? No. Unmarked exits? No.”

While on the surface, this may be true, but if you’ll dig a little deeper you’ll find that the fire alarm hadn’t worked in quite some time. As for the exits, they may have been marked, but their fire doors were missing allowing the fire to blaze out of control. What’s the point of having fire extinguishers and marked exits if people can’t get to them during the fire? To go into hallway meant death as that poor couple who were visiting their son from India found out.

Or you could talk to the guy who was trapped below ground in the laundry room. The elevator hardly worked on a good day and the stairway was engulfed in flames. He was only able to escape when the firemen broke through a padlocked door that led to the outside. Should you doubt his story that the stairs were in flames, I urge you to check out the video the fire department posted on their website. It clearly backs him up. So please, tell me again how the owners aren’t responsible for that.

I know it’s more comfortable for you to ignore this, but the owners had 9 fire code violations only days before the fire. So while you so freely assign blame to the tenant for this incident as you do in the next paragraph, I urge you relay all the facts. Not just the ones that make one, who I suspect is a member of your organization, look good.

You said: “A resident cooking dinner had a grease fire and threw water (not baking soda or flour) on the fire, making the fire worse. The tenant then fled the apartment, leaving the door to the unit open to the enclosed hallway, only allowing the flames to be fanned further.”

Your outrage regarding the tenants’ actions comes through loud and clear in this paragraph. It’s very easy to call someone stupid for not knowing how to put out a grease fire as you obviously do, but what about the owners’ responsibility here? Had you bothered to read the official report from the fire department, you would have learned that they couldn’t rule out the stove itself as the source of ignition. Or perhaps you did and choose to ignore that little bit of information because it’s much more fun to pin everything on the hapless and stupid tenant.

And finally, your statements that still have me angry even after a year are these: “Second, the owners of Paradise Gardens are to be commended for their quick response to refunding rent checks and security deposits within four days.

Third, the staff at Paradise Gardens has bent over backwards to help the tenants. They have responded to requests for taking pets off the balconies of burned units to pet shops for safekeeping, making calls for residents, and many other human interest examples of excellent customer services occurred at Paradise Gardens.”

Of course the owners were quick to refund rent checks and security deposits within four days. They couldn’t do anything else with the media watching as closely. What isn’t common knowledge is that my security deposit was short $100. Perhaps they kept it as a cleaning fee for a mess that I had absolutely no hand in causing. I’m sure to your mind, that’s fair, right.

The staff bending over backwards to help us after the fire is such a load of blarney that I’m sure they must have put on a great face for you or you’re smoking something really good.

Or perhaps you consider it great customer service to let a tenant return home in January and tell her, “Yeah. Your place burned down. Sorry.” Or maybe it was great customer service to hire a man with one arm who actually laughed when I mentioned that some of my property was missing. No? Then I’m sure it was great customer service for them to schedule me to pick up my property then not bother to call me when they cancelled the appointment only one hour prior.

If not, then I’m sure you consider it great customer service for the owner to have his attorney send me a Notice of Abandonment after he has prevented me from retrieving my property then demand that I pay rent from December to April 2007 and storage fees from that point forward.

This fire was a complete nightmare from the beginning and the owners did absolutely nothing to make the situation better. In fact, they made it far worse. Even tenants with undamaged property were not allowed to retrieve their belongings because the owners claimed asbestos contamination. But testing is expensive so they only did a couple samples and based their decision to destroy everything on those results.

I had to get my own consultant to test my unit. The only contamination he found was what had been caused by the abatement company the owners hired for clean up. It took me over five months to get anywhere near a resolution in this mess. And I was one of the fortunate ones.

It cost me an unnecessary $10,000 that I didn’t have and talking to every government agency I could find who had any leverage, but I got most of my property. I’m still missing my class ring and some appliances, but that’s nothing compared to the tenant who had a locked box that contained cash, jewelry and checks. The clean up company only returned her checks.

Other tenants are missing their big screen TVs, laptops, stereos, etc. What makes the loss so hard is that none of these things were damaged by the fire. They were seen, intact, the following day, but the fire department wouldn’t allow us to remove those items during our 10 minute reentry. These losses were all products of the owners hiring a clean up company as shady as they are. Tell me, what is there to praise in that?

A Still Angry Tenant

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