The incident last month at the Colonade, a controversy-plagued high-rise apartment building in Abington Township, had a tinge of déjà vu:
Days after a new resident moved into an 11th-floor unit in the otherwise empty building, she was getting ready for bed when she smelled smoke.
She followed the odor to a vent in her kitchen, according to a fire investigation report, then fled down the dark stairwell, using her iPhone to light the way.
The fire had started in a room in the building's subbasement, investigators found. But smoke detectors were covered in plastic, and the fire alarm system was not operational, the fire marshal said in a report.
The incident rekindled the legal battle - and underlying concerns - that for years has locked the township and building owners in disputes.
With 535 units and many senior residents, the Colonade was long plagued by complaints about fire safety, infestations, broken heaters, and water leaks. In 2012, the township cited the owners for nearly 200 code violations.
The landlord, Metropolitan Properties of America (MPA), emptied the building and was said to be nearing the end of a $26 million renovation project. The improvements include replacing appliances, upgrading hallways and common areas, and converting ground-level commercial space into 54 apartments.
But the April fire and its fallout suggest that renovations alone may not solve the township's long-standing issues with the Colonade.
Last month, MPA sued Abington and its officials, alleging defamation, breach of contract, and other offenses, claiming they are unfairly targeting the apartments.
In its reply, the township cited the fire.
"As the April 7, 2016, fire demonstrated, the township's concerns were entirely legitimate considering that smoke from a trash fire in the subbasement level traveled all the way to the 11th floor without being detected," lawyers for Abington wrote.
The resident who reported the basement fire was the only occupant of the Colonade at the time, according to the fire report and court documents.
She has since moved out. MPA said in court documents that it uncovered all smoke and heat detectors immediately after the fire.
Township officials, however, said no one should be living in the building, which does not have an overall use and occupancy permit.
MPA claims that the township granted certificates of occupancy for 280 of the apartment units. It said it hoped to begin adding more tenants within weeks.
Township officials "are intentionally and maliciously harming [the landlord] at the most critical phase of the $26 million renovation project - the time when leasing has finally started," MPA's lawyers wrote in the lawsuit, which seeks $5 million in damages.
In 2014, MPA and the township settled a dispute over whether the renovations should include a fire alarm system and sprinkler upgrades, with MPA agreeing to some fire-system improvements.
The township had wanted a sprinkler system in every unit, but the company said the improvements it planned already exceeded code requirements. MPA added a new fire-alarm system, new smoke detectors in every unit, and a new first-floor sprinkler system, according to court documents.
The renovated Colonade has not yet been inspected, township lawyers said in court documents, so "it is unsafe for anyone to reside in this building."
A hearing set for Thursday in federal court was canceled hours beforehand, when MPA withdrew an emergency motion. Township officials declined to comment, as did a lawyer for MPA.