Ten of Thirteen People Killed In New York City Flooding Accidents Were In Illegal Apartments; Darlene Hsu, Roberto Bravo, Phamatee Ramskriet, Khrishah Ramskriet, Lobsanj Lama, Mingma Sherpa and Ang G. Lama Among Those Found Dead
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK (September 6, 2021) – At least 13 people have died in their own basement apartments due to severe flooding brought on by Hurricane Ida.
In all, at least 43 people have died from the storm between New York and New Jersey. New York City police officials have said that 10 of the deaths involve residents who were in illegally converted apartments.
These deaths have raised questions about the safety of these basement apartments which have been a part of New York City’s housing stock for decades.
Mayor de Blasio has estimated that there are around 50,000 illegal basement apartments throughout the city. These units are believed to house more than 100,000 people.
Some of the victims identified so far are listed below.
- Darlene Hsu: The 48-year-old victim was in a flooded home in Grand Central Parkway in Queens.
- Roberto Bravo: The 66-year-old victim was found in his Brooklyn home along Ridgewood Avenue.
- Phamatee Ramskriet and Khrishah Ramskriet: The mother and son were found in their Queens basement apartment. Phamatee Ramskriet and Khrishah Ramskriet are believed to have been trapped after a wall caved in.
- Lobsanj Lama, 2, Mingma Sherpa, 48, and Ang G. Lama, 50: All three victims were found in their flooded Queens basement apartment.
There have been numerous calls for reform from state and local officials following these tragic deaths. City officials are encouraging residents to call 311 or 911 to report issues. This can be done without fear of being vacated – except when there is life-threatening danger.
A full investigation into the floods that killed Darlene Hsu, Roberto Bravo, Phamatee Ramskriet, Khrishah Ramskriet, Lobsanj Lama, Mingma Sherpa and Ang G. Lama remains ongoing.
Liability In New York City Basement Flooding Accidents
New York City has one of the highest costs for housing in the world. According to Business Insider, “The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in New York City is $3,500 — over two times the national median of $1,480. The average price of homes listed in Manhattan is nearly $1.5 million — more than five times the typical national price of homes listed.” This has led to a shadowy network of basement residences. Many of these units are illegal and lack basic safety features such as:
- Multiple exits in the case of a fire or lock
- Carbon monoxide detectors
- Smoke detectors
- Proper ventilation
Not all basement apartments in NYC are illegal. However, these units must meet basic safety standards set forth by the Department of Buildings (DOB). For example, basement ceilings must be at least 7 feet high. For single family homes, every room in a basement must have at least one window. Basement walls must be water-proofed. When a building owner fails to follow (DOB) regulations they could be liable in the event of an injury or death.
Building owners in New York City have a legal responsibility to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition. This should be done for tenants as well as anyone on a property whose presence is “reasonably foreseeable.” When a property owner is aware of a dangerous condition on their property they must take action to correct it. Claimants must prove four elements to be successful with any premises liability claim.
- Duty of Care: Were any victim’s owed a duty of care by the landlord? Landowners owe the people on their property a duty of reasonable care to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition. (See, for example, Maheshwari v. City of New York)
- Breach of Care: If a claimant was owed a duty of care, it must then be determined if that duty of care was breached.
- Causation: Claimants must demonstrate that the breach of care was the proximate cause of their injury.
- Damages: For any claim to be successful, a victim must have sustained compensable damages. This may include medical bills, emotional distress, lost wages and funeral costs.
The family of any victim that died in a New York City apartment may be able to seek justice through a wrongful death claim. Potential beneficiaries in a civil claim will typically include a victim’s next of kin. Demonstrating negligence for any accident can be difficult. It will often require evidence and the use of experts. A premises liability attorney can examine all of the facts of your case free of cost and let you know what your rights are.
Investigating A New York City Basement Apartment Flooding Accident
We at Gersowitz Libo & Korek, P.C. extend our deepest condolences to the families of Darlene Hsu, Roberto Bravo, Phamatee Ramskriet, Khrishah Ramskriet, Lobsanj Lama, Mingma Sherpa and Ang G. Lama. Any person that may have information about what happened should reach out to the Department of Buildings. There needs to be a thorough investigation for the sake of all who have lost so much.
This tragedy has put into clear focus the dangers of unregulated and illegal basement apartments. It is our sincere hope that steps are taken to prevent future incidents like this. Safety regulations are not a suggestion. They must be followed for the safety of tenants and the general public.