By Ben Simmoneau
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The wife of one of the property owners of the Kensington warehouse that burned Monday, killing two Philadelphia firefighters, says now is not the time to discuss the tragedy.
She was not happy to see the CBS 3 I-Team at her Brooklyn doorstep on Wednesday afternoon.
“I cannot answer you any questions,” Ruth Lichtenstein said to I-Team reporter Ben Simmoneau. “I don’t think this is the time nor the place to speak about this terrible tragedy.”
Ruth Lichtenstein identified herself as “with the Lichtensteins” when asked by the I-Team, and a worker identified her as Ruth, the wife of Nahman Lichtenstein. Nahman Lichtenstein was identified by the city as one of the owners of the old Thomas Buck Hosiery factory which burned to the ground Monday, along with Yechiel and Michael Lichtenstein.
The three Lichtensteins own 30 properties across Philadelphia under various names like “YML Realty” or “YML Housing LP.” The properties are in various states of repair – and range from boarded up row homes to an unfinished and blighted high-end condo conversion on Market Street in Center City. The city on Wednesday released a lengthy list of citations against the Lichtensteins’ properties. Officials say they were cited three times prior to Monday’s fire for “unsafe” conditions at the Kensington property, yet the city says they took no action to seal the building.
The Lichtensteins also owe the city $385,000 in back-due property taxes for their properties.
“Can you explain how you owe the city $385,000 in back due property taxes?” I-Team reporter Ben Simmoneau asked Ruth Lichtenstein.
“If you want to know anything, we have a lawyer, and you can talk to him,” she said. A spokesman for the Lichtensteins’ law firm, Herrick, Feinstein in New York, declined comment for the second day in a row on Wednesday.
Ruth Lichtenstein also refused to answer our questions about why her husband’s company ignored the city’s citations at the Kensington property.
“Stop walking after me,” she told Simmoneau.
“We need to get serious about letting owners of properties know they have to take care of their properties,” said State Representative Kevin Boyle. “I think ultimately the people who are to blame are the owners of this property.”
Rep. Boyle says he’s had numerous complaints about New York speculators buying up properties in his Northeast Philadelphia neighborhoods, then neglecting those properties. He says they can buy properties cheaply, ignore them for years, then hope to turn a profit by selling them for double or more as neighborhoods see their property values rise.
“We need to get focus from the top that this is a very serious issue that is driving thousands of Northeast Philadelphians out of the city,” Rep. Boyle said. “I’m very concerned that this won’t be the last time.”