Victims of Grand Street Fire Receive Compensation after Eight Years

The 2010 Grand Street fire. (Photo via World Journal)

In 2010, a seven-alarm fire engulfed several buildings on Grand Street in Chinatown. Eight years later, right before the Lunar New Year, the victims finally received their compensation of $1 million in total on Jan. 31, under the help of advocacy organization Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) and law firm Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP.

The fire, which took place on the night of April 11, 2010, was caused by the overheated power cords in a dilapidated building at 283 Grand St. The fire started in the street front supermarket and quickly spread to the top floor. The flames shot up to over 20 feet above the rooftop. The fire completely claimed the two buildings at 283 and 285 Grand St., and the building at 289 Grand St. was also affected. Sing Ho, an 87-year-old resident, died in the fire, three others were seriously injured, and more than 200 residents lost their homes.

The victims blamed the landlord, Fair Only Real Estate Corporation, for long-time inadequate maintenance and neglect. Represented by AAFE and Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, they brought the landlord to court and requested $2 million for damages and compensation.

After eight years of litigation, AAFE announced on Jan. 31 that it had obtained $1 million in compensation for the victims from the landlord and the insurer. Thomas Yu, co-director of AAFE, said at the press conference that AAFE promised the victims that the organization would fight for them to get compensation. He said this is a victory of the residents’, and AAFE will keep fighting for the interests of tenants in New York City.

Joshua Kipnees, a partner at Patterson Belknap, which provided pro bono services for the victims, said that because of the difference in the situations of each victim’s family, it took eight years and numerous group discussions with all residents and private discussions with individual victims to proceed with the case. “This is a bittersweet day,” said Kipnees. “But we are happy for the victims who received their compensation.”

Compensation for victims of the Grand Street fire in 2010 was announced. Council member Margaret Chin is a center in the pink jacket. (Photo via World Journal)

Margaret Chin, the City Council member representing Chinatown, was in her first year on the council when the fire took place. Chin said that she remembered two family members of Ho’s went to her office to seek help the next day. “They said they believed Ho was still stuck in the building,” said Chin. “After coordinating with various agencies, firefighters went into the shaking buildings again to search for Ho, and they found his body. “

Now the buildings at 283 and 285 Grand St. have become commercial buildings. Chin said Chinatown has lost too many affordable housing units over the years. She will work together with AAFE to fight for more affordable housing units so that more people are able to live in New York.

Yuh-Line Niou, the Assemblywoman representing Chinatown, said that the landlord of the Grand Street buildings was not the only one who neglected the safety maintenance of properties. More and more landlords are trying to force out low-income tenants with the same trick. She vowed to push for legislation to stop this.

In another story, World Journal reported the comments of some of the people awarded compensation: 

When they talked about it at the press conference, many victims still looked anxious and sad. They said they thought it was just a small fire at the beginning and never expected it to swallow their whole building and make them homeless.

Kevin Chang lived at 285 Grand St. with his parents who worked in restaurants. He was an 11th grader when the fire took place. Chang said it was about 9 p.m. and the family was in the living room chatting and watching TV. Suddenly, someone outside cried: “Fire!” Then he saw smoke seeping in from the shut door.

“We covered our noses and mouths, opened the door and started running down along the stairway,” said Chang. “The smoke was so thick that we couldn’t even see the steps. Not until we ran out to the street did we see the flames in the basement of the building.”

Jiabi Tong, a resident who had been collecting artwork, said what really devastated him was that all his artwork was lost in the fire. Tong received more than $20,000 on Jan. 31. “So many people spent eight years helping us to get the compensation,” said Tong. “Is there still anything I am not satisfied with? No.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*