“To our knowledge, the building had no permit whatsoever for residential use,” Aubervilliers Mayor Meriem Derkaoui told French TV channel BFM on Monday.
According to media reports, the building’s landlord only had a commercial lease for the grocery shop located at ground level. Although he did not have a residential lease for the upstairs apartment, he rented it out anyway to at least one family. The number of inhabitants has not yet been confirmed.
A local woman who reportedly visited the apartment a few years ago told French daily Le Figaro that the building was “completely uninhabitable”.
The Sunday blaze broke out in the apartment above the shop. Twenty-two people were injured, including five children and 10 police officers, according to the Paris fire department. Seven people remain in critical condition.
Some 100 firefighters were needed to put out the flames, according to AFP.
Witnesses said the inhabitants escaped by window. According to media reports, some locals were able to help people evacuate the building before the fire department arrived.
Sad but not surprised
Local officials have condemned the state for not providing the northern suburb with the financial means to renovate old apartment buildings.
“It is unacceptable that we must wait years and years to receive funds,” Derkaoui said, adding that many neighbourhoods in her city “are old and deteriorating”.
The Aubervilliers mayor said she was also “calling on the government” to address her city’s “slumlord” problem.
A problem that has been acknowledged by Geoffroy Didier, vice president of the Paris Ile-de-France region. “Aubervilliers is indeed one of the cities where slumlords operate in force,” Le Figaro quotes him as saying. “They take advantage of the most vulnerable people by renting them dilapidated apartments, sometimes at exorbitant prices.”
According to Le Figaro, Didier has called for punishing illegal landlords with more severe fines. He’s also proposed keeping more detailed records of their activity, as “many of them operate fraudulent real estate agencies and, if necessary, declare bankruptcy so as to escape legal action”. The paper estimates that some 180,000 apartments in the region are unsanitary and rented out by illegal landlords.