San Francisco

Legal Battle Already Brewing Over Who Is Accountable for Deadly Oakland Warehouse Fire

A complicated legal battle is already brewing over who is accountable for the Oakland warehouse fire that killed at least 36 people.

NBC Bay Area's Investigative Unit has learned that several families of victims from the fire have already contacted attorneys.

A prominent real estate broker said another tragedy could happen if city officials do not do something about the proliferation of illegal use of large warehouse spaces.

Several interests could be on the legal hook for the Oakland fire and face not only possible criminal charges, but a long and drawn out civil lawsuit process as well.

Even before investigators were done combing over the so-called Oakland Ghost Ship warehouse, and long before the walls began coming down, survivors and victims' families contacted legal counsel to begin compiling possible civil lawsuits to hold those responsible for the conditions in the warehouse accountable.

"You can rest assure they're going to tighten up the noose a bit," said Joseph Marrone, a real estate attorney.

Marrone is one of the country's foremost catastrophic injury and real estate attorneys. Based in Philadelphia, Marrone and his firm have already been contacted by several families of victims of the Oakland fire and is working closely with at least one of those parties on a possible action.

"If you own a building, especially a commerical building, you have an obligation to make sure all codes are correct," Marrone said. "That you live up to all standards."

At the same time, Marrone said if the actual building owner was not fully aware of what was going on inside, much of the focus and potential accountability falls on the person whose name was on the lease: Derick Ion Almena.

Marrone said it appears the person on the lease disregarded a lot of laws and a lot of the permits.

"It seems like this individual who was responsible for the building really did not pay attention on how to correctly manage the building, and do things necessary, that ultimately may have caused these problems," Marrone said.

There are also problems Hans Hansson, a San Francisco real estate broker, brought to the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit's attention.

Warehouses all over San Francisco and Oakland, sitting empty and waiting to be leased, are broken into and taken over for weekend rave parties. Hansson said neither police nor firefighters will stop these gatherings that he claims goes on every weekend.

"They jam folks in there, as many as 250," Hansson said. "And if a fire breaks out, it will make the Oakland warehouse fire look small by comparison."

Watch our investigative series on the Oakland warehouse fire:


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