The structure was last permitted for legal use as a warehouse, officials said, and it did not have the permits necessary for people to live in the building, known as the Ghost Ship.
Shelly Mack, 58, a former tenant who lived at the Ghost Ship for several months two years ago, described it to The Associated Press as a ramshackle structure where water and power were sometimes siphoned from neighbors and where a generator once exploded.
Mack said that she was told to describe it as a 24-hour work space for artists — rather than a dwelling — and that when inspectors dropped by, tenants hid their belongings.
“It’s a good example of people taking advantage of people because they had no other options,” Mack, a tech sales worker and jewelry maker, told the AP. “People make businesses off scamming people online when they’re looking for a place.”
In a Facebook post, a musician who said he had performed at the Ghost Ship said such spaces were the product of artists across the country being “pushed to the periphery, if not wholly exiled, by real estate speculation.”
“Artists will perform in the few spaces made available to us, and audiences will go to those spaces they feel comfortable, even if those are spaces are totally dangerous,” the post said.
“If we don’t want this to happen again, we ought to focus less on blaming the persons who operated this one particular warehouse, and more on how to carve out other types of alternative spaces in our cities, so we don’t have to hold our parties in death traps,” he wrote.
The AP identified Derick Ion Almena, 46, and his wife, Micah Allison, 40, as the Ghost Ship’s operators. They did not immediately respond to requests for comment from NBC News on Sunday night.
In a statement to
NBC Bay Area on Saturday, the daughter of the warehouse’s owner said the family had no comment.
“We are also trying to figure out what’s going on like everyone else. We’re so sorry to hear about the tragedy,” Eva Ng said in an email attributed to her mother, building owner Chor Ng. “Our condolences go out to the families and friends of those injured and those who lost their lives.”
The building’s owner told NBC News on Sunday that they did not know people were living inside the structure.
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