New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine July/August 2020 free digital issue

HABITAT

BUILDING OPERATIONS

HOW NYC CO-OP AND CONDOS OPERATE

More Than 300 Buildings Lack Needed Sidewalk Sheds

Times Square, Manhattan

Dangerous Facades

729 Seventh Avenue, where falling terra cotta killed a pedestrian in December (image via Google Maps).

Jan. 9, 2020

More than 300 buildings citywide have open violations for not putting protections in place to shield passersby following a failed facade inspection, The City website reports. 

After architect Erica Tishman was killed last month near Times Square by a piece of terra cotta that broke free and plummeted from the facade of 729 Seventh Avenue, the Department of Buildings (DOB) swiftly announced it would inspect 1,331 buildings whose mandatory inspections had found their facades unsafe, “to determine if they required additional pedestrian protections.” Of those, 220 lacked such protections and would be issued violations requiring them to put up barriers to falling objects, according to the DOB. 

But even before that announcement, the DOB already had slapped hundreds of buildings with public safety violations for not putting up sheds or other safety measures – and those The City visited last week still had not put up protections, even months after inspections spotted risks. 

Under Local Law 11, now known as the Facade Inspection and Safety Program, owners of all buildings taller than six stories must inspect and repair facades every five years. The highrise at 729 Seventh Avenue was reported as “safe with a repair and maintenance program” in February, a status that under Local Law 11 requires owners to fix problems before the next inspection cycle. But the building owners failed to erect a sidewalk shed. Since the fatal accident, they have filed a lawsuit against the owner of two neighboring buildings, claiming the neighbors denied them access to their buildings, preventing them from making mandated facade repairs. 

According to construction expert Richard Lambeck of the Schack Institute of Real Estate at New York University, building owners often choose to take a violation rather than make repairs for a very simple reason. “To them,” Lambeck says, “it’s cheaper to get the fine than to actually do the work.” 

A solution, Lambeck suggests, is obvious: increase the fines. A meaningful fee, he believes, would be $200,000 or $250,000 for major violations. 

The typical penalty is now $10,000.

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