Flatbush landlord sentenced to 6 months in prison after deadly space heater blaze

apartment where space heater fire killed one and injured seven
1776 Nostrand Avenue in 2016, three years before the deadly blaze.
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A Flatbush landlord was sentenced to six months imprisonment Tuesday for the 2019 death of a tenant in a fire caused by a space heater.

Evener Leon, 63, was also sentenced to five years probation by Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun after being found guilty at trial in May for the criminally negligent homicide of Jean Yves Lalanne, his 70-year-old tenant.

Leon’s building at 1776 Nostrand Avenue, between Clarendon Road and Avenue D, caught fire early in the morning of Dec. 2, 2019. Lalanne, a resident of the building’s third floor, was trapped in his apartment and ultimately jumped out the window to his death. Six other tenants suffered injuries in the inferno.

brooklyn DA eric gonzalez in suit at podium
The landlord was sentenced to 6 months in prison and 5 years probation for the fire, which killed one tenant and injured seven others. Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez said the landlord’s “unconscionable negligence” led to the fire. Photo courtesy DA Eric Gonzalez/Facebook

Following the fire, the Fire Department discovered the building to be awash in fire safety code violations. The building’s third floor was illegally subdivided into four apartments housing seven adults and four children. Leon’s family lived on the second floor, and the ground floor housed a law office and driving school.

Leon stopped paying his utility bills years before the fire, according to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, instead supplying his tenants with space heaters. Faulty electrical wiring connected to a space heater on the second floor caused the fatal blaze, the Fire Department found. The fire was able to spread quickly through the building because it lacked a sprinkler system and the interior doors were not self-closing or fireproofed, in violation of city ordinance.

Lalanne’s apartment in particular was deemed a “dead man’s room” by FDNY personnel. The building did not have a street-facing fire escape, and the apartment facing the building’s rear — where there was a fire escape — was locked. Lalanne was effectively trapped on the third floor when the fire engulfed the building’s stairwell, officials said, leaving him with no other options.

“This landlord’s unconscionable negligence cost an innocent man his life and left six others injured when a horrific fire broke out in his illegal apartments,” District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in a statement. “Today’s sentence holds him accountable and sends a strong message to landlords who put profit over the health and safety of their tenants that violations of our housing laws and regulations can come with serious consequences.”

Leon was indicted in May of 2021 and pled not guilty. He was convicted of negligent homicide but acquitted on manslaughter charges. City records indicate he is still the owner of 1776 Nostrand, which he purchased in 2006 for $464,000. Records indicate the building presently has 37 open violations on file with the Department of Buildings, and Leon is on the hook for outstanding fines owed to the city.

space heater closeup
The landlord was not paying for utilities and instead distributed space heaters to his tenants, Gonzalez said. Space heaters have been linked to dozens of deadly apartment fires in the city.Tony Webster/Wikimedia Commons

Space heaters have been responsible for a number of high-profile conflagrations — including the deadly Twin Parks fire that killed 17 people in the Bronx this January — leading legislators to draft new restrictions on their sale. City and state lawmakers passed bills in May requiring space heaters sold in New York come equipped with thermostats and automatic shut-off features, and be certified as safe by a federally-recognized product safety body.

The city bills were signed into law by Mayor Eric Adams, but the state bill has not yet gained the signature of Governor Kathy Hochul. A spokesperson for the gGvernor said the state legislature has yet to send the bill to the Executive Chamber for Hochul’s signature, and as of yet, it remains under review by her office.