A seven-story building partially collapsed in the Bronx on December 11. While nobody died or was seriously injured, more than 100 people were displaced.
The 96-year-old building reportedly had several outstanding building code violations at the time of the collapse. FDNY, the Department of Buildings, and the Bronx District Attorney’s Office are investigating the incident, which brings renewed focus to New York’s dangerously old infrastructure.
Landlords can face criminal and civil penalties for unaddressed problems in their buildings. Property owners and other parties can also be held liable for personal injuries that result from building collapses. A building collapse injury lawsuit is a type of premises liability claim.
Collapsed Building Deemed “Unsafe” in 2020
According to WPIX, the building that collapsed at 1915 Billingsley Terrace had seven open violations. Department of Buildings (DOB) Commissioner James Oddo said that none of the violations were related to structural issues.
Richard Koenigsberg, an engineer hired to inspect the building, flagged “unsafe” façade problems in 2020, but he told Spectrum News the façade did not fail. He suspects a structural failure at the first floor.
A façade repair plan filed earlier this year with the DOB reportedly indicates a crack in the collapsed section of the structure. DOB is also reviewing plans from the building’s original construction.
Speaking with Gothamist, Koenigsberg said, “This is a catastrophic structural collapse of a column at the corner of the building. It’s amazing no one was hurt.”
The building housed 47 residential units and 6 businesses. Tenants have complained for years about conditions at the building and have sued the landlord’s company to force repairs and upkeep, Gothamist reports.
New York’s Aging Infrastructure
New York, founded in 1624, is one of the country’s oldest cities. History is part of what gives New York its charm. Aging infrastructure, however, threatens the quality of life in New York City.
From crumbling housing complexes and aging water mains to deteriorating roads and decaying parking garages, New York requires an estimated $47.3 billion in repairs.
A New York Times analysis found that structural issues are widespread in the City’s 300 multi-story parking garages. After the collapse of a nearly 100-year-old garage in April that killed one and injured several others, DOB officials visited 187 garages, shutting down 3 and closing 12 for repairs.
The median building age in NYC is approximately 90 years. Over 75% of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residential buildings are more than 40 years old, and 531 date back to at least 1950. Out of 2,600 NYCHA buildings, 1,500 do not comply with exterior and façade conditions under Local Law 11.
Just 250 buildings racked up nearly 40,000 housing code violations, including 9,442 that qualified as immediately hazardous, Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) officials announced in 2022. The issues include mold, rodents, lead paint, and faulty wiring. Brooklyn has the highest number of distressed buildings (119). The Bronx has the second most (72), followed by Manhattan (43) and Queens (16).
What to Do If You Suspect Structural Problems
Housing code violations can be reported to HPD. If an owner fails to make repairs within four months, the City can step in, order the work done, and send the bill to the landlord.
A building that is at risk of collapse may be brought to the attention of DOB by calling 311 or filing a building construction complaint for a building that is shaking or vibrating; leaning; or has a defective or cracked exterior façade. DOB should respond to complaints about structural stability within 24 hours. If they see something unsafe, they could issue a violation or a vacate order.
Other signs that a building is at risk of collapse are bulging walls, new or widening cracks on interior plaster, windows that start to stick, and new noises.
Every building that is over six stories tall requires an exterior inspection report every five years by a licensed engineer. That report is filed with the City.
Building Collapse Injury Lawsuits
Landlords have a legal duty to ensure their building is safe for its occupants. Owners could be held liable for injuries, deaths, and damages caused by a building collapse if there was a known issue that they failed to address. Failure to follow New York City building codes could cause a catastrophic building collapse as well.
City officials will investigate a collapsed building and determine its cause. In addition to the building owner, potentially liable parties include the general contractor, subcontractors, engineers, architects, material suppliers, and manufacturers of building materials.
A building collapse injury lawsuit can provide compensation for a victim’s medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, property damage, and other losses. For a free case review, contact the premises liability attorneys at The Sanders Law Firm.