Eight Berkeley residents remain stranded in local hotels and a property owner says he faces financial peril after a suspicious fire damaged three south Berkeley buildings last week.
“[City inspectors] won’t allow us back until the building is brought up to code,” said Shawn Goad, who lives one story above J&B Fine Foods at 3242 Adeline Street, where the displaced residents lived.
Ali Kassim who owns both the ground floor shop and the building on Adeline Street says he doesn’t have the money to repair electrical circuits damaged by the fire and cannot pay relocation costs of the now homeless residents.
The Red Cross is currently paying for temporary lodging, but after the aid expires Friday, Kassim is obligated to pay for the difference in the tenants’ housing costs for the next three months or until they can move back, as required by Berkeley law.
“I’m in so much debt, I don’t even have enough money to pay my rent,” he said.
The fire damaged the building’s electrical wiring, prompting fire inspectors to order power shut off to the building until repairs are made.
Kassim said the lack of power at his store cost him $10,000 in spoiled foods and is now depriving him of further income he could use to repair the building.
City officials said Kassim should take out a short-term loan to make repairs and get his business re-opened. Without a loan, Kassim likely will have to wait until his insurer sends a check, which city officials said could take months.
Before tenants will be permitted to move back, Kassim must show city inspectors that all of the fire damages have been repaired and that no outstanding code violations exist.
Goad who has been put up at the Shattuck Hotel by the Red Cross, said the top floor is not nearly ready to re-occupy.
“The landlord hasn’t cleaned up at all,” he said. “There are scraps hanging from the ceiling, the floors are soaked, and there are holes in the back stairway,” he said.
City officials said evidence at the scene of the fire points to arson as the cause of the fire.
“It appears from fire inspectors that an excelerent [highly flammable material like gasoline] was present,” said Berkeley police spokesperson Mary Kusmiss. Police have no suspects in the case.
Nobody was hurt in the three-alarm blaze that fire officials estimate caused $130,000 in damages.
About 40 to 50 percent of Berkeley fires are intentional said Fire Department Assistant Chief David Orth, noting that Berkeley was ranked among the upper fifth of California cities for arson.
The south Berkeley fire came one week after 69 residents of the UA Homes at 1040 University Ave. were allowed to return to their apartments after spending nine weeks in hotels while the building’s owners made repairs. That fire was not believed to be arson related.
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