New York City has announced it will file criminal charges against the corporate owner of 729 7th Avenue in Manhattan, a 17-story tower near Times Square that, on December 17, 2019, shed a piece of its terra-cotta facade and killed architect Erica Tishman
Tishman, 60, was a founding partner of DeWitt Tishman Architects and at the time of her death was vice president of Zubatkin Owner Representation. On the morning of December 17th, Tishman was struck by a piece of crumbling facade and pronounced dead at the scene by responders. The building’s owner, 729 Acquisitions LLC, which is controlled by controlled by commercial real estate firm Himmel + Meringoff Properties, had already received an emergency citation for facade repairs in April of that year over damaged terra-cotta that posed a potential health threat to pedestrians below.
Although the limited liability corporation had filed permits to begin repairs in October and November of 2019, there was still no scaffolding in place by December. The company had already been fined $1,250 by the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) over the damaged decorative elements and ordered to build a sidewalk shed at the estimated cost of $13,000.
“Owning a building in our city comes with a straightforward legal responsibility to keep the property in a safe condition, and make repairs when needed,” said Buildings Commissioner Melanie E. La Rocca, who heads the DOB, in an announcement today. “Ignoring this responsibility is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Landlords should know that delaying required building maintenance will lead to consequences.”
The DOB has not as of yet released what potential penalties the company faces if found guilty.
The LLC is being charged with violating the Administrative Code in Manhattan Criminal Court. Specifically, Local Law 10 and 11, which stipulate that New York City building owners of properties over six stories, retain “a qualified licensed professional to examine the facades and exterior walls of those properties, and report the conditions they find to the Department once every five years for our review.”
Meanwhile, the family of the late Tishman is pursuing legal action against both Himmel + Meringoff Properties and the city. In May of this year, a state Supreme Court judge ruled that widower Steven Tishman could sue Himmel + Meringoff Properties for wrongful death in civil court; although the judge acknowledged that 729 Acquisitions LLC technically owned the building, he reportedly allowed that the company was the operator and could be sued for damages.
Benedict Morelli, attorney for the Tishman family, provided AN with the following statement:
“The City recognized that despite the owners being very aware of significant damage to the building’s facade, which presented an imminent hazard to the public, they failed to make necessary repairs or put up a sidewalk shed to protect pedestrians. If they had acted and met their responsibility under the law, Erica would be with us today. It is enraging when real estate developers and big corporations in our City think they can get away with not making critical repairs simply because they do not want to pay the money. They put New Yorkers at risk every day. We are glad that the City took a stand and pursued criminal charges, and we plan to make sure the building owners and managers are held fully accountable.”
In the month after the deadly facade collapse, the DOB contemplated ways to beef up facade upkeep enforcement, going so far as to float the possibility of inspections by drone. There are still thousands of buildings across the city with open facade-related violations that need remediating.