Landlord Negligence May Burn You Alive

FIRE PROTECTION IN SOUTH BEACH
June 23, 2015
By David Arthur Walters
PRESS INDEPENDENT

The older I become the more saddened I am by the bad news the media thrives on. The closer I get to the end of my miserable little world, life on the planet that will survive me seems to be getting worse and worse despite the faith in Progress, making of my insignificant life nothing but a vain and meaningless episode.

Many of the disasters could have been prevented. For example, the fire that killed a mother and two of her young children, and left in critical condition the son who tried to save them. The father is of course “paralyzed with grief.”

Incidentally, I am the survivor of two Manhattan hotel fires: in one, a man was burned to death down the hall from me; in the other, a man jumped from the window above my room and was impaled on fencing below.

As an actor and a writer and an overly sensitive person by nature, I tend to put myself in other people’s shoes. Having done so, I could not sleep after seeing the report of the fire fatalities.

“Damn! Why did the media have to show that to people?” I asked out loud.

“Because there is a lesson in it,” I answered myself. “Smoke detectors save lives. Like the guy said, if you do not have one you are going to die.”

I had taken the smoke detector from the ceiling of my squalid studio in the ghetto because it kept buzzing. I am told now that it needs a new battery, so I shall put one in and remount it.

I have finally gotten my typical South Beach ghetto landlord to fix what Florida Power and Light technician and an electrician said was an “extremely dangerous” defective electrical breaker outside. I had been sleeping next to my only door after placing my pants with wallet in pocket and shoes by the door just in case.

I had called my landlord several times about a strange electrical phenomenon. When I turned on the switch on the stove, sometimes it did not come on. Instead, a light across the room came on. The AC would buck on and off or not work at all, so temperatures were running an average 90 degrees inside. He said the electrical anomaly was “just a ghost.”

He does not like complaints and can be a bully when they are pressed. He happens to be a Cuban Hebrew with powerful connections in our Cuban and Jewish local and county government. His tenants were almost all illegal immigrants and Hispanic criminals at the time, some of them dealing dope, storing stolen property, subletting out their studios for human trafficking, so he had a hold on them. I got the police department neighborhood liaison officer to inspect the premises and write a report that the property attracted criminals and the locks on gates were removed, but she threw it away, saying it was not a police problem.

His hold on me was a month-to-month lease at $250 below market rate, a big difference in money to me. When I did insist on having the defective toilet in my unit fixed, I had to pay for the parts and he upped my rent $100 per month. That hurt.

I finally resorted to a clever stratagem. My income is way below the poverty level for a single man in the high-rent, so-called chic South Beach. I definitely could not afford an electrician. So I forwarded the notion that it might be an issue external to the building for which FPL was responsible.

I called the problem in to FPL and was given a ticket number I could follow up on. When I called back, a computer told me that linemen were working on the issue and should have it fixed in so many hours.

What? There were no FPL linemen near my building. I did see some in an alley on the next block, so I questioned them. No way, they said, was my issue related to the one they were working on.

Things come in droves, or people notice more incidents when they happen to be having one of that kind. FLP was also working on a problem across the way from the police station garage created by someone running into a telephone pole. A ridiculous urban rumor was circulating, that a drunken cop had almost knocked it down exiting the garage! And there were also fires nearby.

So I kept calling and calling FPL and they finally got a man in a huge truck out to check out my issue. He was great. He came inside to observe the phenomenon and stuck his probe in a few things, saying something about 240 volts, two phases running on one, stuff like that. Then he went outside, saying in these old building the issue is often with the breaker. He stuck his probe in there, and said that was the source of a very dangerous problem, and apologized that he could not do anything about it because it was not his company’s responsibility.

Well, I called the landlord with that report. He said there was no such thing as 240 volts, that it must be a ghost. I said I would do him a favor and get the fire department to come over and fix the breaker since the FPL fellow had said there was a danger of fire.

“No, no, don’t do that. I will come over and look at it.”

“Why go out of your way? Send an electrician or have the fire department have someone fix it. An expert has already diagnosed it.”

He came over, anyway, insisting at first it was a little fuse on one of the wall outlets, but he finally relented, seeing that his whole building could be in danger.

The next day, two electricians arrived, a father and son team. The father could speak no English at all yet the son was fluent and obviously educated in the U.S. They had quite a conversation in Spanish. I know little Spanish, but I know the words for “very dangerous” and “fire.”

As it turned out, FPL saved the landlord some money inasmuch as the electricians wanted to go over the inside of the whole studio to find the short. I insisted it was in the breaker outside. Sure enough, that was the problem, said the son, after sticking his probe in there.

The hardware store was closed. They did not have the right capacity breaker in the truck, so put one with half the needed capacity in, warning me not to run the stove and AC at the same time. They came back the next day with the right breaker. Walla! That danger is over.
The moral of this story: Do whatever it takes to make yourself and your loved ones as safe as possible from fires. Life is not really meaningless; it is a tragedy. Do not make it worse.
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