MIDTOWN MANHATTAN, NY — A vast majority of New York City building owners cited with violations for unsafe facades in a crackdown following the Dec. 17 death of Erica Tischman ignored the city's demands to put up scaffolding, Department of Buildings Commissioner Melanie La Rocca said during a Monday City Council hearing.
The city issued violations at 220 buildings for lacking proper pedestrian protection after inspecting more than 1,330 building facades in December. Of those buildings, only 68 have complied with city demands to install scaffolding, La Rocca said.
Contractors will be hired to install scaffolding at the remaining 152 buildings at the expense of the property owners, La Rocca said during Monday's committee on housing and buildings hearing.
"These actions will hold owners accountable for both maintaining their facades and keeping pedestrians safe," La Rocca said.
The city Department of Buildings announced the results of its facade inspection sweep in late December, warning that building owners would be charged for any contracting work done by the city to erect the emergency scaffolds. In the 30 hours following the Dec. 17 death of Erica Tischman, DOB investigators inspected every building listed as "unsafe" in the city's Façade Inspection & Safety Program, city officials said.
Tischman, a 60-year-old architect who lived on the Upper East Side, was hit and killed by a piece of falling debris while walking on West 49th Street and Seventh Avenue. Tishman was hit by the crumbling facade of the 17-story building at 729 Seventh Ave., Department of Building records show. The property had been issued a violation for an unsafe facade in April and again in July when owners took no action, La Rocca said Monday.
"No pedestrian should be in danger from dangerous facade conditions," La Rocca said. "I would like to remind owners that they are responsible for maintaining their buildings in a safe condition which could prevent incidences like these from occurring in the future."
A spokesman for the company that owns 729 Seventh Avenue, real estate firm Himmel + Meringoff Properties, said in a statement that the violations issues against the building were downgraded in court.
"The initial hearing on the April violation, which was scheduled for June 20, 2019, was adjourned at the request of the court because of its heavy caseload that day. The new date, September 12, was set by the court. At the September hearing, the judge reviewed the evidence and downgraded the violation, determining that the building's facade did not require immediate repairs," the company spokesman said in a satement.
The committee on housing and buildings met on Monday to discuss proposed legislation that would allow the city Department of Buildings to use drones to inspect building facades. City Councilman Ben Kallos, a sponsor of the bill and member of the committee, said Monday that facade inspectors are currently forced to use binoculars, telescopes and other low-tech methods of inspection that could be replaced by drones.
Drone flights are illegal under current city regulations due to decades-old laws regulating the use of aircraft within the city.