Former tenants of the Hallmark House Apartments continue suing owners of the Redwood City complex ravaged by a six-alarm blaze in July alleging they failed to prevent the fire with proper maintenance, sprinklers and smoke detectors.
Five more negligence lawsuits against KDF Hallmark were filed Tuesday in San Mateo County Superior Court, bringing the total to more than two dozen lodged since the July 7 fire killed one, sent 21 people to the hospital and left nearly 100 residents homeless when the building was deemed uninhabitable. All are represented by attorney Ara Jabagchourian with the Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy firm and all blame KDF Hallmark for the early-morning fire because of its failure to “properly inspect, maintain and safeguard the property from a foreseeable unit fire.”
The fire at the 72-unit apartment complex at 531 Woodside Road is believed to have started in a third-floor unit where the deceased, 48-year-old Darin Michael Demello-Pine, was cooking at about 1:45 a.m. The fire then moved through the 1964 complex which was not outfitted with sprinklers. In their respective suits, the plaintiffs said the Hallmark investment group should have readily seen when purchasing the building in 2003 that it lacked them and other safeguards like smoke detectors. Without them, “what should have been a localized fire, quickly extinguished by sprinklers, turned into a six-alarm blaze,” the suits state.
The suits contend KDF Hallmark was more interested in recouping its $8 million investment as quick as possible than in making basic improvements.
Tenants Jorge and Juanita Chavez filed the first suit 11 days later and others have followed. On Monday, a judge approved consolidation into one case.
In addition to suing, the tenants were left trying to pick up the pieces of their former homes. Landlord KDF Hallmark refunded residents’ July rent and returned deposits and gave letters of recommendations for the former tenants to help them find new housing. At least one and maybe more moved into the Terrace Apartments down the road which itself went up in flames Oct. 17. That older building was also not required to have sprinklers because it predated current fire code.
Hallmark attorney Kasey Townsend could not be reached for comment.
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