Lake Street fire photo of remains

Spring Valley landlord fined $32K for housing violations next door to fatal fire site

“The owner of the Lake Street house where five people died in a March inferno has been fined more than $30,000 for multiple fire and safety code violations at a neighboring house.

The fatal fire in March at 118 Lake Street led the Rockland Office of Building & Codes inspectors to inspect all the properties known to be owned by Jacob Jeremias, an Airmont resident who owns multiple properties in Spring Valley. The agency, which is state-empowered to inspect only Spring Valley properties, issued Jeremias several hundred violation notices on more than a dozen properties in the aftermath of the fatal blaze.

Spring Valley: Fatal fire leads to inspections; violations found at next-door houses

One property – a two-family house at 120 Lake St. – has been fined $32,850 for multiple violations of the New York State fire and safety codes, according to documents provided by the agency to The Journal News/ under the New York State Freedom of Information Law.

Jeremias has not paid the fine, leading the county’s attorneys to take legal steps to collect the money, government spokesperson Beth Cefalu said.

Lake Street fire photo of remains

While the Rockland Office of Building & Codes has issued fines, the police have not divulged the results of an investigation – if any – into the fatal fire at 118 Lake Street. The Rockland District Attorney’s Office, which has not pursued charges in other fatal fires, referred questions concerning the investigation to the police or other investigative agencies. The Sheriff’s Office also deferred to the police department.The Rockland Office of Building & Codes fined Jeremias $9.600 for lacking smoke and carbon monoxide detectors inside the garage behind 120 Lake Street that had been converted into an apartment, according to the documents.

The office also hit Jeremias with a $23,250 fine for violations at the two-family house, found to be unfit for human occupation, and ordered shut down or repaired.

Jeremias could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Ryan Karben, a former Rockland legislator and state Assembly member, didn’t return calls and messages.

The agency documents show the March inspection found the house lacked heat on the first floor, had mold throughout the house, and had electrical issues with inoperable or flickering lights, exposed wires, and poorly wired electrical panels. Electric heaters were used to overcome the lack of heat and extension cords substituted for proper wiring. No smoke detectors were found while the documents cited other violations like open plumbing pipes and loose handrails and garbage strewn on the property.

Inspectors for a separate agency, the Rockland Codes Initiative, which enforces the county sanitary code, found the house in disrepair and lacked electricity because the owner failed to pay its bill in an apparent effort to force out the tenants, including a pregnant woman. The bill was eventually paid, providing power for a couple and three children on the second floor. The agency enforces the county sanitary code and Jeremias could face thousands of dollars in additional fines.

The family living on the first floor said they paid Jeremias a monthly rent of $2,550, an amount similar to the family on the second floor. Both families evacuated during the fire to 118 Lake St., with members of the second-floor family jumping to safety.

Building & Codes Director Edward Markunas, the former Suffern mayor, oversees administrative hearings on the violations and does inspections. The agency came into being after the state deputized the county to take over Spring Valley’s Building Department functions in November 2021 after years of dysfunction and lack of adequate enforcement. The county started inspections and prosecutions in February 2022.

Code enforcement: Spring Valley mayor wants building inspections back, saying county is ineffective

Under state law, three-family homes and above, commercial, and places of assembly are subject to mandatory inspections, which fall under building and codes jurisdiction. Single and two-family homes are not subject to mandatory inspections so 120 Lake St. was never inspected by the county. For years, Spring Valley Building Department officials oversaw inspections.

After the fatal fire, Markunas and Building and Codes inspectors went to the neighborhood and inspected with the permission of the tenants. The agency inspected other Jeremias properties in Spring Valley. Rockland Codes Initiatives inspectors did Jeremias’s properties in the village and in unincorporated Ramapo.

Inspectors found violations in 120 and 122 Lake Street and houses on the nearby properties. The violations included electrical issues, mold, lack of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and other deficiencies such as single-room occupancies.

They inspected other Jeremias properties in the village, issuing him more than 250 violations at 10 properties in the village, with more violations for properties in the Town of Ramapo.

Lawsuits: Ramapo landlords face legal actions after fatal Spring Valley fire that killed 5

Sheriff Louis Falco said investigators determined the cause of the fatal 118 Lake St. fire in which two children, ages 4 and 13, and three adults died was electrical inside the two-family house. Investigators believe the fire started on the first-floor electrical outlet and caused the second-floor to cave in. At the time of the fire, the last inspection had been in June 2022. A Spring Valley inspection of the house in September 2021 revealed 14 code violations. The violations were corrected, officials said.

Five killed in Lake Street blaze

Three people were found dead from the flames and smoke on the second floor and two on the first, officials said. One man jumped from the top story. Five others were treated at hospitals and two firefighters were treated for minor injuries. The tenants were from Guatemala.

The District Attorney’s Office awaits the results of the Spring Valley police investigation with the Sheriff’s Office, said Peter Walker, chief of detectives for District Attorney Thomas Walsh.

“The Spring Valley Police Department, the Rockland County Sheriff’s Office, and the Rockland County Office of Buildings and Codes are the lead agencies investigating all aspects of the fatal fire that occurred on Lake Street,” Walker said. “This office has not been notified of any arrests or charges filed resulting from that investigation as of July 26, 2023.” Rockland Undersheriff Robert Van Cura deferred comment to Spring Valley police, saying the Sheriff’s Office detectives assisted and it’s the village’s case.”

Read the complete Journal News coverage here.