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Brooklyn’s ‘emergency’ building situation

The Brooklyn Paper
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Almost half of all emergency building declarations issued in New York City over the past year were made in Brooklyn, a recent study revealed.

According to the Department of Buildings (DOB) report, 263 emergency declarations were issued in Brooklyn — out of 539 citywide.

There were nine standard declarations and 254 immediate declarations reported in Brooklyn — more than any other borough by a wide margin.

An emergency declaration is an order made by the agency that requires a building owner to perform work needed to make a building safe.

Owners issued immediate declarations should begin work promptly; standard declarations should be initiated within 60 days of the work order

Sixty-nine immediate declarations were issued in Manhattan during the same period, which spanned from Jan. 1, 2007 to April 14, 2008.

The agency did not offer speculation as to why the numbers for Brooklyn were so high.

The agency, in a statement, said it re-inspected all 539 sites and found that nearly all the declarations have been “fully resolved and the necessary emergency work has been conducted by the building owner or by the city.”

The agency said the study, released May 5, was sparked after a partial building collapse at 102 East 124th Street in Manhattan on March 4. As a result of that incident, three DOB supervisors were suspended.

Acting DOB Commissioner Robert LiMandri and Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) Commissioner Shaun Donovan said the two departments are establishing a new data-sharing protocol for buildings requiring emergency work.

The database is expected to streamline communication between the two agencies by making it easier for the DOB to track emergency declarations to confirm that ordered work has been completed.

Greenwood Heights activist Aaron Brashear has been a keen observer of assorted building projects in and around his neighborhood.

“It’s like the Wild West out here,” he said.

He said a perfect example is the case of 18-20 Jackson Place, a decrepit, half-demolished property that agency officials compelled the owner to tear down last August — after almost a year of complaints from local residents.

Brashear said that while there are good people in DOB’s Brooklyn offices, the agency remains “part of the problem.”

Brashear, who chairs Community Board 7’s Buildings and Construction Subcommittee, said there needs to be more money appropriated for “better training, better inspectors and more special units.”

“It’s wonderful that the DOB is taking charge and working hand in hand with HPD, but if no one collects on the fines that are levied, it just becomes a slap in the face because the developer walks away laughing.”

“There are no teeth—it’s looked at the cost of doing business,” he added.

The DOB keeps track of money it is owed on its website, which includes information about fines imposed and indicates whether these fines have been paid or not.

LiMandri told this paper that the agency is far from a toothless tiger.

“Safety cannot be compromised,’ he said. “By utilizing stop-work orders and violations with increased penalties, we are creating strong incentives for builders, contractors and homeowners to prioritize safety.”

“Those who fail to do so will be held accountable,” the acting commissioner added.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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