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Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021

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CO-OP/CONDO BUYERS

WHAT CO-OP/CONDO BUYERS NEED TO KNOW

Supertall Schadenfreude: Luxury Condo Towers Plagued by Defects

Midtown, Manhattan

Supertall condo towers, Billionaires' Row, construction defects, leaks, noise, elevator outages.

The supernal condo tower at 432 Park Ave. (far right) has been beset by floods, elevator outages and eerie noises.

Feb. 5, 2021

There’s an indelible line at the climax of the new thriller, “Underwater,” the story of a mining operation on the ocean floor that gets attacked by terrifying deep-sea creatures. As the monsters make eerie banging, creaking and clicking noises outside the mining vessel, a crew member whispers, “Maybe we don’t belong here.”

Beset by banging, creaking and clicking noises – plus floods and elevator outages – some unhappy condo buyers in supertall towers on Billionaires’ Row are whispering the same thing these days, according to The New York Times.

“I was convinced it would be the best building in New York,” says Sarina Abramovich, who paid $17 million for a high-floor apartment at 432 Park Ave., the 1,400-foot-tall needle that is one of the tallest and costliest residential towers in the world. “They’re still billing it as God’s gift to the world, and it’s not.”

Residents of the exclusive tower are now at odds with the developers and each other, and they can be excused for thinking that maybe people don't belong in apartments more than 1,000 feet above the street. Their claims include: millions of dollars of water damage from plumbing and mechanical malfunctions; frequent elevator outages; and walls that creak like a mining vessel on the ocean floor. These defects may be connected to the building’s main selling point: its dizzying height, according to homeowners, engineers and documents obtained by the Times.

Less than a decade after a spate of record-breaking condo towers reached new heights in New York, the first reports of defects and complaints are beginning to emerge, raising concerns that some of the construction methods and materials used have not lived up to the engineering breakthroughs that only recently enabled developers to build trophy apartments in the heavens. Engineers privy to some of the disputes say many of the same issues are occurring quietly in other new towers.

There have been a number of floods at 432 Park Ave., including two leaks in November 2018 that the general manager of the building acknowledged in emails to residents. The first leak, on Nov. 22, was caused by a blown flange that connects piping in a high-pressure water feed on the 60th floor. Four days later, a “water line failure” on the 74th floor caused water to enter elevator shafts, removing two of the four residential elevators from service for weeks.

After the first incident, water seeped into Abramovich’s apartment several floors below the leak, causing an estimated $500,000 in damage, she said.

Many of the mechanical problems cited at 432 Park are occurring at other supertall residential towers, according to several engineers who have worked on the buildings. All buildings sway in the wind, but at exceptional heights, those forces are stronger. A management email explained that “a high-wind condition” stopped an elevator and caused a resident to be “entrapped” on the evening of Oct. 31, 2019 for 1 hour and 25 minutes. Wind sway can cause the cables in the elevator shaft to slap around and lead to slowdowns or shutdowns.

One of the most common complaints in supertall buildings is noise. Metal partitions between walls groan as buildings sway, emitting a ghostly whistle of rushing air in doorways and elevator shafts. Residents at 432 Park have complained of creaking, banging and clicking noises in their apartments, and a trash chute that sounds like “a bomb” when garbage is tossed, according to notes from a 2019 unit-owners’ meeting.

It’s almost enough to make a job in a mining rig on the ocean floor sound attractive. You may get eaten alive by monsters down there, but at least it won’t cost you tens of millions of dollars.

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