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Owner Charged in Fatal Facade Failure

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

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The owner of a New York City building is facing a year in jail after bricks from the building’s crumbling facade fatally struck a 2-year-old girl sitting below last year.

On May 17, 2015, Greta Greene and her grandmother, Susan Frierson, were sitting on a sidewalk bench outside The Esplanade, an assisted-living facility in Manhattan, when they were hit by falling bricks. Greene died the following day of head injuries and Frierson suffered serious leg injuries.

On Sept. 20, Alexander Scharf, the managing agent and principal majority shareholder of Esplanade Venture Partnership, was accused along with the partnership itself of violating provisions of the city’s Administrative Code that require "all parts of a building, including the exterior walls and appurtenances, to be maintained in a safe condition," according to a release issued by New York City Department of Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler.

brick facade
New York City

The charges against the building owner follow a case against a professional engineer who had deemed the property safe before pieces of its facade fell and killed a 2-year-old girl.

The charges follow a previous case against a professional engineer who had been hired by the building owner.

In June, Maqsood Faruqi was sentenced to two years probation after admitting to signing off on an inspection report that claimed the building was “safe.” Faruqi told investigators he had not visited the building prior to signing off on the report.

Needed Repairs

In the current case, authorities allege that despite being notified of deteriorating facade conditions, the building owners failed to make timely, necessary repairs.

“When you own a building, you have a responsibility to maintain it—you don’t just get to cash the rent checks and call it a day,” said Chandler. “I hope these criminal charges will send a message that building owners can’t turn a blind eye to maintenance. They have a legal responsibility to their tenants, and to the public, to keep their properties safe.”

The rule cited in this case, Local Law 11, was enacted in 1980. It requires owners of buildings greater than six stories to retain a qualified licensed professional to examine facades and exterior walls and report the conditions they find to DOB.

© / simazoran

The city has made several changes to the local facade inspection procedures following the toddler's death.

Despite a recommendation to immediately repair cracks in the exterior walls, appropriate action was not taken, authorities allege. Scharf was said to have made minor repairs but continued to allow the facade to deteriorate, officials claim.

If convicted, Scharf and the partnership could be made to pay a maximum penalty of $25,000 and spend a year behind bars.

Email Warning

The toddler's death sparked an investigation of the city's facade enforcement practices.

The New York Daily News and other media outlets said seven months before Greene's death, a consultant inspecting the building next door noticed cracks on the The Esplanade's facade. He reportedly emailed a photo of a crack to the head of DOB's facade unit writing, "get someone over here pretty quick on this."

The consultant received an out-of-office reply, so he emailed the top buildings department architect, the New York Daily News reported. Investigators said the architect acknowledged receipt of the email but the inspector to whom she forwarded had failed to open the message, reports relate.

Spark for Change

The DOB has said it has implemented a number of changes to its procedures to increase facade enforcement following the tragedy. According to officials, those changes include:

  • Establishing a new system to track all Local Law 11 inspection reports;
  • Requiring that any building that fails to timely file an inspection report will have 180 days to submit the report—if the landlord fails to do so, the City will conduct an inspection and, if needed, place safety sheds at the location at the landlord’s expense; and
  • Mandating that any building that files a report indicating there are dangerous conditions will be given 180 days to correct these conditions. Again, if the landlord fails to do so, the City will conduct an inspection and, if needed, place safety sheds at the location at the landlord’s expense.


Tagged categories: Building codes; Building facades; Building owners; Enforcement; Ethics; Government; Maintenance + Renovation; Renovation

Comment from Dick Piper, (9/28/2016, 8:59 AM)

Jail time, not necessarily as long as a year, is important to send a very clear message that building owners are responsible for the properties they own.

Comment from john lienert, (9/28/2016, 9:09 AM)

2 yr. old and her grandma dead ?? guess probation and miniscule fine will fix everything....NO!!is the D.A. an idiot ?

Comment from Jesse Melton, (9/29/2016, 7:24 AM)

The grandmother was not killed. The building owner is ultimately responsible, yes. However, once authorities had been informed of the problem it also became their responsibility. Management sending the problem to personnel better equipped to handle the situation is fine, preferable even, but the lack of follow up by the Chief Architect is really bad. Her job didn't end when she hit send. She directly interjected herself into the issue. Every email system on Earth has had easy follow up tools as part of the core system for over a quarter century. Out of office replies should have a mechanism to ensure messages reach whoever is assuming the duties of the person who is out. Again, basic functionality already in the system. I wonder how much funding the Buildings Dept. will request to reimplement features they already have?

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