A big lawsuit here. The New York Times article by Charles V. Bagli begins:
Manhattan’s top federal prosecutor filed a civil rights lawsuit Monday against Related Companies, one of New York City’s most prolific builders, charging that the developer had violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against disabled tenants in the design of two apartment buildings.
Prosecutors are widely expected to file similar lawsuits against other developers, including the Durst Organization and Glenwood Management, in what has become a long-running dispute over whether buildings erected under New York City’s accessibility law meets federal requirements.
The lawsuit claims that Related’s TriBeCa Green building, at 325 North End Avenue, completed in 2005, and One Carnegie Hill, on East 96th Street, finished in 2006, are inaccessible to disabled tenants because kitchens, closets and bathrooms are not big enough for someone in a wheelchair to maneuver within, mailboxes are mounted too high, and room identification signs lack raised-letter Braille for persons with visual impairments.
It’s an interesting take, to file this as a civil rights lawsuit against major real estate developers. Little guy versus Big Rich Guys.
My own anxieties over obeying New York’s stringent laws are far more intimately focused and far more personal.
Lately I’ve been listening to a much smaller scale whine (at first) and then (sighing) acknowledgement of and compliance with New York City’s various laws that govern buildings, alterations in buildings, permits needed — and from which and how many city agencies — in order to do alterations. Architect’s and engineer’s plans and how they must be approved and by whom.
I’ve heard a lot of people complain about New York’s stringent residential building requirements. But not for the past several weeks, not since what was apparently a gas leak blew up several buildings on East 116th Street and Park Avenue, killing a number of people and making homeless many more. What I’m hearing now is: did anyone complain to the Department of Buildings and/or Con Ed about a potential gas leak?
Did anybody complain — as I have multiple times (in my own lawsuit against the co-op’s Board of Directors) over a impermissible and potentially dangerous gas line in the cellar of my building — to the Department of Buildings and was a DOB inspector permitted into the area to inspect and potentially issue a violation, and lay down fines? And, having issued violations and fines, were those violations remedied?
They were not remedied in my building, because the co-op’s Board of Directors has, since 2005, ignored the violation and left the inadequate gas line they installed in place.
And as I am well aware, unless the DOB is granted access by a resident, they can’t follow up on violations and can’t mandate a remedy, unless a resident or shareholder manages to obtain an access warrant from a judge to get the DOB in.
New York has stringent building regulations that can baffle unwitting residents and/or homeowners. But they are there for a reason — to prevent catastrophes like the East Harlem explosion.
I’m copying here something I posted a while ago, because now this Times Q&A reads even more powerfully than it did when I quoted it a few months ago:
From the January 3, 2013 New York Times’ real estate question and answer column:
The Joys of Homeownership
Q. If I buy a property that the previous owner renovated without permits, and the Department of Buildings finds out about the renovations, am I liable?
Crown Heights, Brooklyn
A. Welcome to homeownership. If you own a property, you are responsible for all of it, even if you didn’t put up that illegal wall. According to the Department of Buildings, if there has been an illegal modification you have two choices. You can legalize it or you can restore it to its original condition.
If something seems fishy, call an architect, who can determine whether renovations have been done to code. You or the architect can check city records to see which modifications (if any) have been filed with the city and which ones haven’t. Remember: This is more than a question of liability. The building code exists for a reason, and illegal changes can create safety hazards. So you want to make sure that your new home is safe.
As Walter C. Maffei, a Brooklyn architect, put it: “If they moved a gas stove, who’s doing the plumbing? People die from gas leaks. That is an issue that is of great import.”
Let me repeat Mr. Maffei’s most resonant line: “The building code exists for a reason, and illegal changes can create safety hazards.“