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White Plains Investigates Occupancy of Home After Blaze

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – White Plains City Hall announced Monday that building inspectors are investigating the occupancy set-up at 24 Lafayette St., where a Saturday cooking fire blazed up to the second and third floors, sending two firefighters to the hospital.

Corporate Counsel John Callahan said the building department is "investigating what the legal occupancy should be." Three families were living in 24 Lafayette St., which February 2012 property tax document lists as a single-family home. Callahan said tax records are not always synchronized with building department files.

The 12:30 p.m. fire left nine people searching for permanent housing from the homes of family and friends, according to Carolyn Sherwin, a spokesperson for the Westchester American Red Cross chapter. The two firefighters sent to the hospital have been released and are "absolutely fine," according to Chief Richard Lyman. The flames, however, have ignited frustration in Fisher Hill and Battle Hill neighborhoods, where residents say city hall is not addressing their concerns about overcrowded housing.

Battle Hill Association President Patty Cantu said the city could do a lot to supply "safety and quality of life for all" by inspecting homes that may house more than they're zoned for at night when people return from work.

Night visits, Cantu said, "would help these people. You would have people sleeping in basement and attics and by boilers. It’s a fire hazard and a safety hazard.”

Karen Pasquale, senior advisor to Mayor Thomas Roach, said there have been no night investigation policy changes since Roach took office.

Cantu urged the city to create a business ordinance for homes constantly rented out that comes with a license, safety inspection regulations and a 24-hour contact if the landlord doesn't live on the property.

"It’s being taxed and assessed as a single family," said Cantu. "This is now a business – we're talking a thousands of dollars business – and we’re not even receiving the tax revenue when there are multiple families living in a residential home."

Mike McConnell, president of the White Plains Homeowners Coalition, shared many of Cantu’s worries about the fire.

“This is a perfect example of why we need to empower our fire department to inspect more homes,” said McConnell, whose organization focuses on housing concerns in Battle Hill and Fisher Hill. “These are all over Battle Hill and Fisher Hill and nobody can do a thing about them. This is obviously a serious public safety issue.”

Chief Lyman said he couldn’t comment on the occupancy of 24 Lafayette St., but he confirmed that buildings used for purposes other than their intended design “can be dangerous not only for the residents, but also for the firefighters.”

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