Fuming Apartment Building Tenant Files Lawsuit Over Most Recent Fire

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Just one day after a fire heavily damaged a 25- story West Los Angeles apartment building, a tenant sued the building's owner and operator today, alleging negligence caused the second major blaze at the facility in less than seven years.

Charles Agozino's Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit names as defendants Santa Monica-based Douglas Emmett Inc. and two of its subsidiaries. The resident of the Barrington Plaza Apartments seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages as well as a declaration of class-action status.

``Residents have complained for years that the apartments do not possess fire sprinklers, serviceable fire alarms, usable fire exits or other basic safety measures that would mitigate fire damage as well as protect tenants and their loved ones,'' the suit states.

But the tenants' warnings have been ignored, the suit alleges.

``Barrington Plaza's residents are fed up, they want Douglas Emmett to fix their building and to make them whole,'' the suit states.

A Douglas Emmett representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The flames were reported at the building on Wilshire Boulevard near Barrington Avenue at 8:37 a.m. Wednesday and were extinguished at 9:56 a.m. Fourteen people were injured, including three firefighters and a resident who was left in grave condition.

LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said Wednesday the fire is ``suspicious,'' but a cause has not yet been determined.

The fire began on the building's seventh floor, which is the sixth ``residential'' floor above the building's lobby, said LAFD spokesman Brian Humphrey. The flames also affected the sixth, eighth and ninth floors of the building.

Two 30-year-old men in the apartment where the fire started were injured and both were hospitalized, one in grave condition and the other in critical condition, according to LAFD Capt. Erik Scott.

Douglas Emmett Inc. is one of the largest real estate companies in the world and is a publicly traded company with a market cap of approximately 7.3 billion, the suit states.

``However, the surface sheen of Douglas Emmett's properties hides a seedy and deadly underbelly, an absence of even the most basic fire safety measures for Douglas Emmett's tenants,'' according to the suit.

During the previous fire at the Barrington Plaza in October 2013, fire alarms did not go off and stairways filled with smoke, the suit states.

``Strikingly, the same issues that were present during the October 2013 fire resurfaced again (Wednesday),'' the suit states. ``Residents stated they did not hear an alarm or warning and were only alerted to the fire by neighbors knocking on their doors.''

Sprinklers were never installed after the 2013 blaze and nothing was done to eliminate the Barrington Plaza's fire hazards, the suit alleges.

``Without sprinklers to extinguish the fire early on, adequate smoke alarms to alert tenants or a clear fire response protocol, the fire grew until it engulfed the sixth and seventh floors,'' the suit states.

Tenants from the recent fire have suffered physical injuries, including smoke inhalation, as well as severe emotional distress, the suit states.

The 240-unit building was built in 1961 and was found to be up to code during the most recent inspection last June, according to Scott. Because of its age, the building is not required under current codes to have a sprinkler system.

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