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After Death From Falling Debris, Violations Found at 220 Buildings – NYTIMES

After Death From Falling Debris, Violations Found at 220 Buildings

The infractions, which can include dangling signs and cracks in walls, were considered so risky that the city said they must be fixed immediately.

Buildings in New York are required to meet rigorous safety standards.Credit...Demetrius Freeman for The New York Times

By Azi Paybarah Dec. 30, 2019

After a pedestrian in Manhattan was fatally struck by a piece of building facade, officials this month conducted surprise inspections that determined that 220 other buildings in the city had serious violations that their owners had failed to address, the authorities said on Monday.

The violations, which can range from blocked exits to dangling store signs to large cracks in exterior walls, are considered so dangerous that they pose a threat to the public and must be fixed immediately, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Buildings said.

The inspection sweep came after the death this month of a New York architect, Erica L. Tishman, who was walking on the southeast corner of Seventh Avenue and 49th Street, near her office, when falling debris struck her in the head.

The debris had come from 729 Seventh Avenue, a 17-story office building in Midtown with retail shops on the first floor, according to the Department of Buildings. In April, the owner of the building had been fined by the city because terra cotta above the 15th floor was coming apart and at risk of falling.

The building’s owner, Himmel + Meringoff Properties, paid a $1,250 fine for that violation.

Ms. Tishman’s death rattled many New Yorkers, who are accustomed to walking next to the growing number of tall buildings in the city but have likely not given a thought to the possibility that debris could fall from them.

Himmel + Meringoff appears to have a pattern of facade-related violations. One of its buildings, at 521 West 57th Street, also in Midtown, was issued a $500 fine in 2017, after inspectors found damaged stucco and bricks, as well as eroded mortar around the masonry.

The company also received an infraction in 2018 for cracks in exterior walls at 400 Eighth Avenue in Chelsea. It paid a $2,500 fine.

The Department of Buildings defended its inspection record, but also said it would hire 11 facade inspectors, doubling the number.

“With our enhanced inspection protocols and expanded staff, owners who choose to skirt their obligations will face swift consequences,” Melanie E. La Rocca, the department’s commissioner, said in a statement.

So far this year, 345 buildings have received Class 1 violations, the most serious, according to Abigail Kunitz, a spokeswoman for the agency. Last year, that number was 252. The year before that, it was 316.

This is not the first time a tragedy at a tall building has prompted a crackdown.

In August, a 30-year-old man on Manhattan’s East Side was crushed to death when the elevator he was exiting suddenly dropped.

Afterward, the Buildings Department dispatched inspectors to examine elevators, another department spokesman said. Last year, a construction worker in Brooklyn was killed when a building’s retaining wall collapsed. Inspectors once again rushed out and examined retaining walls, the spokesman said.

Azi Paybarah writes the New York Today column. He was raised in Queens, educated in Albany and lives in Manhattan. He worked at The Queens Tribune, The New York Sun, Politico New York and elsewhere before joining The Times. Email him or follow him on Twitter. @Azi

A version of this article appears in print on Dec. 31, 2019, Section A, Page 15 of the New York edition with the headline: Owners Ignored Serious Violations at 220 Sites.


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