‘It boils my blood.’ Sen. Skoufis says halted bills could have helped prevent Spring Valley fire

Sen. Skoufis first pitched a package of bills three years ago that would stiffen the penalties for bad landlords and repeat offenders who often get off with lenient fines, but after passing in his chamber twice, the proposed laws went nowhere in the state Assembly.

News 12 Staff

Mar 6, 2023, 10:25 PM

Updated 449 days ago

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A Rockland County lawmaker is calling attention to the issue of code violations and safety hazards following another fatal fire in Spring Valley.
Five people, including two young cousins, were killed in the early morning at 118 Lake St. on Saturday. Five others were injured. 
News 12 has learned that the property is owned by 33-year-old local realtor, Jacob Jeremias, of Capital Ventures Group. 
According to records obtained by News 12, the group owns several other properties in the area, including the two homes next door at 120 and 122 Lake streets. 
News 12's cameras were rolling Monday afternoon as the Rockland County Buildings and Codes Task Force showed up for a surprise inspection at one of them, where multiple violations were discovered - electrical issues, smoke detector violations, mold and multiple occupancies. 
A title search shows that Jeremias was cited in 2021 for an additional 14 code violations, including one for not having working smoke detectors in the home where the fire broke out.  Those issues were cleared three months later.
Multiple sources tell News 12 that there were more recent complaints from current tenants over circuit breaker issues and possible illegal walls.
The Lake Street fire was down the road from the Evergreen Court Home for Adults, where volunteer firefighter Jared Lloyd and an elderly resident died two years ago. 
The Spring Valley Fire Department launched the "Light Rockland Red For Jared" initiative, asking homeowners and businesses to hang red lights to honor his sacrifice, only hours before the weekend's fire.
"It boils my blood that here we have dead children ... because there are still some communities that scoff at buildings codes," says Sen. James Skoufis. 
Skoufis first pitched a package of bills three years ago that would stiffen the penalties for bad landlords and repeat offenders who often get off with lenient fines, but after passing in his chamber twice, the proposed laws went nowhere in the state Assembly.
"It's tragic that sometimes it takes a situation like this to prompt Albany and legislators to move on an issue we should have done a long time ago," says Skoufis. "It's like the Wild West in these communities, and until Albany finally wakes up and drops the hammer on these bad landlords, they're going to continue view this as the cost of doing business - these slaps on the wrists," says Skoufis. 
Skoufis also discussed his thoughts with News 12 about if the investigation proves that the tenant's safety concerns were ignored.
"There should absolutely be criminal repercussions for that ... even if it's not some degree of murder - manslaughter, certainly," says Skoufis. 
News 12 tried to contact Jeremias to get his side of the story - by telephone, email and in person - but has been unable to reach him.
The state Office of Fire Prevention and Control says it has offered to help in the deadly fire probe, but ultimately it's the secretary of state's responsibility to make sure municipalities get the job done. They have not returned News 12's repeated requests for comment.  


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