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Five years after deadly New Haven apartment fire, victims' families take city to court

Damage above the window of an apartment at 150 West Street in New Haven, Conn., where two residents were killed in illegal units after the building caught fire five years ago.
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
Damage above the window of an apartment at 150 West Street in New Haven, Conn., where two residents were killed in illegal units after the building caught fire five years ago.

Clarice Elarabi’s twin, Michael Randall, died in a New Haven house fire that trapped him in his attic apartment.

“I'll never enjoy a birthday again in my life,” Elarabi said.

This month marks five birthdays Elarabi has endured since her brother and another tenant died in the house fire. Now, the families are preparing for a trial against city officials they claim were negligent.

Elarabi wants the city officials who, she said, dropped the ball, to be held accountable.

“If you have a job, do it,” Elarabi said. “They shouldn't be able to start something and then say, ‘Oh, screw it, we're not going to pay attention to it,’ and move on to something else. These are lives. People literally are dying because of their negligence.”

Randall and Corey Reed were residents of the West Street multi-family home, a building city inspectors knew contained unsafe conditions. That’s the crux of a lawsuit filed by the victims’ families.

Craig Smith, lawyer for victim Michael Randall’s family, said some landlords don’t want to take the time and fees to set up safe and up-to-code rental property.

“This particular landlord was not from Connecticut, was not living here. It was a New Yorker,” Smith said.

Clarice Elarabi and Michael Randall (L-R)
Clarice Elarabi and Michael Randall (L-R)

The property at 150 West Street is still standing, though abandoned and boarded up. The former landlord, who is included in the Randall family’s lawsuit, purchased the building less than two months before the fatal fire.

He sold the property in November to a local Limited Liability Company operated by another New York owner, according to New Haven property records.

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said he can’t comment on current litigation, but that safe housing is a priority.

“While the fire predates my time as mayor, what happened to Mr. Randall is a tragedy, and I was grateful to recently have the opportunity to speak with his sister and to convey my condolences for her family’s loss,” Elicker said. “The city always participates in the legal process in good faith, and ensuring affordable, safe, high-quality housing has been and will continue to be a top priority for my administration.”

Jury selection is underway and the trial will begin in June.

Abigail is Connecticut Public's housing reporter, covering statewide housing developments and issues, with an emphasis on Fairfield County communities. She received her master's from Columbia University in 2020 and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2019. Abigail previously covered statewide transportation and the city of Norwalk for Hearst Connecticut Media. She loves all things Disney and cats.

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