Three Fires in One Month in Bushwick Building Leave Mom and Child Homeless, Despite Complaints

Angel Kaba, a Brooklyn dance instructor was forced to move to a shelter after her building caught fire three times. Angel Kaba, a Brooklyn dance instructor was forced to move to a shelter after her building caught fire three times. Photo: Shenal Tissera.

By: Shenal Tissera

When Angel Kaba fled domestic violence with her seven-year-old daughter in April 2021 and found residence in Bushwick with help from the City, she thought she was starting anew; cultivating a safe and happier life away from abuse.

Just three years later, Kaba and her daughter now live in a shelter in the Bronx, after she was forced to vacate her residence at 441 Wilson Ave., following three electrical fires in the building in the span of a month.

As a result, Kaba now spends six hours commuting between the Bronx shelter, her daughter’s school in Brownsville, and her work in Manhattan, where she is a dance instructor.

From rodents and pests, to leaky ceilings and inadequate heating and hot water for weeks at a time, Kaba said she is exhausted and feels abandoned by the City that had helped her to find her Brooklyn home. What she thought would be a safe environment turned into greater instability for her family, and any outreach to the City fell on deaf ears.

The fires began after the landlord BK Immobilier, LLC, which is owned by real estate firm the Raisner Group, and Taube Management started renovations in the building earlier this year.

“We got word from the Con Edison workers who came saying the building wiring was so old and was not touched since the 1940s and that management and the landlord needed to do serious repairs,” said Kaba.

Tenants soon noticed flickering lights and buzzing noises coming from the walls. One resident, Isabella Bastiani, complained the electricity in her apartment would go out after she would plug something in.

After the first fire in units C3 and D3 on February 24, Kaba and others implored building management to conduct proper inspections and fix the core issues of the building’s electrical wiring.

Still, no major repairs were conducted, and the building’s power was back on after the first fire. The building’s management assured them a fire wouldn’t happen again, Kaba said.

But there was a second electrical fire two weeks later, on March 10, originating in the same units. When the third fire struck in Bastiani’s apartment, B3, on March 19, what little good faith trust was left completely eroded between the residents and the landlord.

“The night before, I could hear something happening, and I called ConEd twice telling them they needed to send somebody to turn the power off,” said Bastiani. “They said they were going to, and then I woke up to a fire in the morning.”

In the past two years alone, 154 complaints were filed against the property and over 140 violations were committed, with more than 80% classified as hazardous or immediately hazardous violations, according to data available from the NYC Housing and Preservation Department.

Kaba wondered how the landlord and management could keep ignoring tenants’ warnings: “After fire number two, you have an understanding of what the situation is,” she said.

Kaba said she and other residents began to wonder whether or not the fires were intentional as a means to clear the remaining rent stabilized apartments and turn them into market-rate units.

Landlords can deregulate their building after replacing 75% of the building’s housing accommodation systems, if the building is deemed seriously deteriorated and is vacated, according to the state Department of Homes and Community Renewal.

Taube Management and the landlord, Remy Raisner Rufenach, did not return calls or emails to BK Reader for comment.

Kaba said she also has turned to the City for help, but has not had much luck.

“Every time you file a complaint with 311, nothing is going to happen to the landlord; nothing can force the landlord, take his hand and say you’re going to do this,” Kaba said.

Later, Kaba also found that her apartment had been illegally transformed from a one bedroom to a two bedroom apartment before she moved in, according to HPD data.

“These HPD people, they come in and out, check out everything, take notes and then they don’t do anything!” Kaba said.

In addition, tenants spent several weeks without heat or hot water this winter. Numerous complaints were filed with the city and attempts were made to try and get management to handle it but when nothing was done, the residents said they paid out of pocket for a plumber to fix the issues.

“Access to hot water was not a thing, it was inconsistent,” said Kaba, who, at times, used water from a pot to wash herself and her daughter during the winter.

So far, tenants were offered to break their lease without penalty, Kaba said.

“The decision was made to vacate the building, and recognizing the impact this has on families, HPD’s Emergency Housing Services Team is actively providing support to those impacted by the fire,” said Natasha Kersey, a spokesperson of the HPD.

Kaba said it was very hard to navigate a City system that’s very rigid and was “made for you to stay where you’re at, as low as you can.”

Still, she said, she remains grateful: “I don’t sleep on the trains; I don’t sleep on the streets.

Thank God I’m in a shelter. But this is my reality now.”