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After Quincy fire, officials push for laws to imprison landlords for unsafe apartments

Nearly four years after an Iraqi immigrant and his two sons died when their illegal apartment in Quincy caught fire, public safety officials are pushing for new laws to imprison landlords who choose profit over safety.

Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey and State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan, along with state Senator James Timilty, want lawmakers to make it a crime when property owners create living spaces that violate fire safety rules and then rent them despite the danger they pose.

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Oudah Moshah Frawi, 39, and his sons, Hassan Frawi and Ali Oudah Frawi, were living in an illegal apartment on Robertson Street in Quincy when a fire broke out on March 25, 2009. The fire blocked the sole exit from the unit, killing Frawi and his sons.

Frawi had moved to the United States to escape the violence of the Iraqi war. His wife, Terri, was rescued by Quincy firefighters, but was badly burned.

Morrissey prosecuted the landlords and obtained manslaughter convictions for all three. Jinny Xue Ma pleaded guilty to three counts of manslaughter and was sentenced to six months behind bars. Brothers Jason and Andy Huang were convicted by a Norfolk ­Superior Court jury on manslaughter charges and were sentenced to three years in prison.

“These were entirely preventable deaths,’’ Morrissey said in a statement. “If there had been forceful tools to stop landlords from renting illegal apartments, like what we are proposing here, those boys might be enrolling in kindergarten and first grade next fall.”

The proposal would create a law making it a crime to rent an illegal unit, shifting away from the practice of relying on what officials called a “hodgepodge’’ of civil laws and building codes to bring the charges.

“In addition to being hard to enforce, the current threat of modest fines has little deterrent effect on those landlords making the conscious, unscrupulous decision to maximize profits renting unsafe apartments that, in a fire, quickly become lethal traps,” Coan said in a statement.

Timilty is the Senate chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. “If we can make these situations less common by making enforcement more efficient and the potential penalties greater, such deaths may also become less common,’’ Timilty said in a statement. “I’ll fight for that.”

For the first violation, landlords would face a maximum of 2½ years behind bars; a second violation would mean a five-year prison term, officials said.

John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@
globe.com
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