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Buildings Owners Ignore $31 Million in Fines Over Unsafe Facades

New York City

Facade inspections, unsafe conditions, sidewalk sheds, unpaid fines.


Feb. 3, 2020

Just days after the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) issued stricter rules and stiffer fines for facade inspections, the New York Times reports that there are about 1,400 sidewalk sheds outside city buildings where facades present a serious safety threat. Over the past decade, according to an analysis by the Times, building owners have ignored more than $31 million in fines over unsafe facades. During that period, more than 6,000 buildings higher than six floors did not inspect their facades or failed to file their findings, as required by law. 

One particularly notorious case in the Bronx dates back to 2001, when inspectors ordered a day care to close because the building’s facade was crumbling. Since then, the building’s owner has ignored at least 19 violations, failed to pay $49,000 in fines, and has not shown up for seven hearings on the dangerous conditions. Yet the city has been unable to force the owner to make any repairs. Instead, a 150-foot stretch of scaffolding that envelops the front of the building was put up in 2011 to protect pedestrians – and remains there today. 

Now the DOB plans to press criminal charges against owners of all buildings with sheds older than three years, a list that includes about 570 properties, according to two people familiar with the agency’s actions. The agency is doubling the size of its facade inspection team to 22 members. 

In the days after Erica Tishman was killed by falling terra cotta near Times Square, the DOB conducted surprise inspections of roughly 1,330 buildings previously deemed unsafe and found that 220 of them had no pedestrian protections. 

“The building commissioner is not messing around,” says Ben Kallos, a city councilman who has urged the department to do far more to take on negligent building owners. “Regardless of who owns the building, they have to keep it safe – and the city should be helping out.”

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