David Perecman understands that the New York City Buildings Department lacks the manpower and funds it needs to keep the Bronx safe and up to code.
According to the New York Daily News, the average response time for nonemergency complaints increased in fiscal 2011. Inspectors responded to 69% of nonemergency complaints within 40 days, a decrease from 78% in fiscal 2010 and 94% in fiscal 2009.
“Building inspectors save lives in New York,” says Perecman, founder of The Perecman Firm. “Buildings that are in violation of the building code risk more than fines. They imperil people’s lives.”
NYC Buildings Department have been criticized for tragic cases like the Bronx fire that killed a family in April, 2011. The 12-year-old boy and his parents were living in illegal housing.
In that case, city inspectors were unable to gain entry to the building. If inspectors had been allowed in the building, they most likely would have seen the unlawfully subdivided property.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said city inspectors are unable to gain entry to roughly half the properties that are the subjects of complaints, reported the New York Daily News.
A number of lawyers believe this percentage to be unacceptable.
“Besides imperiling the lives of tenants and visitors, a dangerous building can imperil the lives of firefighters and other emergency responders,” said Perecman.
In July, a century-old Bronx brownstone “with a broken window and an unlocked door” was engulfed in a two-alarm fire. Quoted in the New York Daily News, Bronx residents said the city could have prevented the death of a man by closing the property.
Apparently, two weeks before the fire, the Buildings Department received a nonemergency complaint describing the Morris Avenue Historic District building as “vacant, open and unguarded.” However, the agency failed to visit and seal the building, city records show.
According to a spokesman from the Buildings Department, inspectors respond to a location at least twice to investigate complaints and try to gain access to the building. If they are blocked or no one answers, they post a form on the door instructing the owner or tenant to call the inspectors back.
If inspectors are turned away by tenants, or no one answers the door, the inspectors must find evidence that the law is being broken, go to court and apply for a warrant to get inside. As a number of lawyers understand, it is difficult to obtain a warrant without evidence beyond a caller’s complaint.
Recently, the Department of Buildings took more than four months to respond to an illegal subdivision complaint in another part of the Bronx, city records show.
In New York, property owners have a legal obligation to ensure that their property is safe, properly maintained, and in compliance with federal, state and city regulations. If a building owner fails to address hazardous conditions that could cause personal injury, the building owner could be held liable for any injuries or fatalities resulting from the incident.
“Personal injury prevention should be first and foremost in the minds of responsible building owners. But when they can’t or won’t do it, the city has a critical responsibility to protect its citizens and visitors from harm,” said New York personal injury lawyer Perecman.