Georges Joseph, The City
This article was originally published on September 27 at 12:51 PM EDT by THE CITY
In a sparsely attended courtroom in downtown Brooklyn, Judge Danny Chun on Tuesday sentenced a Flatbush landlord to 6 months in jail and 5 years probation after a deadly fire in his building claimed the life of Jean Yves Lalanne, 70 years old, in 2019. .
“This building was an absolute disaster waiting to happen because of the conditions, and in fact it happened,” Chun said from the bench. “Frankly, more people could have died.”
Prosecutors had pleaded for more time, a year-and-a-half to four years behind bars, saying landlord Evener Leon, 62, had accepted ‘no responsibility’ for the deadly fire that drove his tenant to jump from his third-floor window to his death. Leon was convicted of criminally negligent homicide in May, following a bench trial by Chun.
The fire started in the insulation of a cord connected to a space heater on the second floor of the building where Leon and his family lived, a fire department probe determined. It then spread to the third floor, which had been divided into four illegal apartments, according to prosecutors. Once the fire spread to the stairwell, Lalanne had no way of reaching the fire escape at the back of the building due to the illegal floor layout, authorities alleged at the time of the indictment.
During the sentencing hearing, Frank Longobardi, the district attorney’s special counsel with the fraud office, argued that the deadly fire was part of a larger pattern of negligence. For years before the incident, prosecutors note, Leon did not pay his gas or heating bills, but instead gave his tenants hot plates and space heaters.
“Instead of providing central heating, judge, he did that, he gave them radiators,” Longobardi said. “Everyone knows that heaters are really dangerous.”
In response, Leon’s defense attorney, Alain Massena, pointed to his age, high blood pressure issues and lack of a criminal record, saying Leon had “done his best to live a law-abiding life”. and deserved a prison sentence.
The building owner also spoke briefly in his own defense with the help of a Haitian Creole interpreter just before Chun’s sentencing decision.
“I’ve always respected everyone,” Leon, who declined to comment further to THE CITY, told the court. “You never know how the future will be.”
In the end, Chun fell in the middle.
“Despite Mr. Massena’s argument that a sentence other than jail will do justice, I disagree,” Chun said. “But I don’t agree with the people’s recommendation for a maximum sentence either. He is a bit old and has never had any problems before.
In the weeks leading up to the deadly 2019 fire, tenants on the third floor of Leon’s building had filed complaints with the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), alleging that they lacked heating, hot water, gas and electricity.
HPD data for the past five years shows Flatbush to be a hot spot for certified heating violations.
Low-heat housing violations are most prevalent in central and east Brooklyn
Violations of the Housing Maintenance Code under “Section 27-2029: Minimum Temperature to be Maintained”. Violations issued by HPD over the past five years, standardized by HPD registered units by Brooklyn borough.
A 2020 audit by the State Comptroller’s Office criticized HPD for failing to properly identify and promptly respond to tenant complaints about heat and hot water.
“Inspections performed two or more days after a complaint is filed gives landlords time to correct the condition – in some cases only temporarily – in anticipation of an inspection, as indicated by some tenants,” noted the office of the controller at the time.
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