Exclusive: Inspectors deemed Manhattan elevator safe 3 weeks before fatality

The elevator didn’t have a device that serves as a back up if the brake fails

344 Third Avenue (Credit: Google Maps)
344 Third Avenue (Credit: Google Maps)

Three weeks before a man was fatally crushed by an elevator in a luxury Manhattan building, inspectors said the car was safe to operate, The Real Deal has learned.

A scheduled test conducted on Aug. 2 at ATA Enterprises’ 344 Third Avenue by elevator technicians involved an “exhaustive review of all the elevator’s safety systems, including the brakes,” according to the city’s Department of Buildings. The inspectors found no violations or deficiencies and approved the elevator for service.

On Thursday morning, building resident Samuel Waisbren was exiting the elevator when it fell, crushing him against the lift shaft between the lobby and the basement floors. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

While a DOB investigation is ongoing, spokesperson Joe Soldevere said there was “no evidence” the Aug. 2 test was improperly conducted.

A source told TRD that the elevator had an expired tag that indicated the brakes had not been tested, but a DOB spokesperson said that a test had been conducted, and that the expired tag had inadvertently not been updated.

TRD also learned that the elevator does not have a rope gripper, which prevents an elevator car from falling in the event its brakes fail. The device is required in elevators in buildings constructed after 2008. The Kips Bay apartment building, however, was constructed in 1997, so it’s only required to install a rope gripper if it undergoes a major modernization.

This month’s test, known as a Category 5, is conducted once every five years. It requires running the elevator with its maximum load and is carried out by maintenance mechanics hired by landlords and witnessed by third-party inspectors licensed by the DOB — a requirement introduced in 2009.

In this case, the test was conducted by LCD Elevator, a Long Island-based firm, and overseen by Lift Tech, a New Jersey firm licensed by the DOB. Another firm, American Elevator, was recently hired to handle day-to-day elevator work at the building.

LCD and Lift Tech didn’t immediately respond to messages left seeking comment. A representative for American Elevator declined to comment Friday.

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The 23-story building, known as Manhattan Promenade, has previously been targeted for poor elevator maintenance. In May, another elevator in the building was shut down by the DOB due to a faulty door zone restrictor — a device that prevents elevator doors from opening between floors. The agency determined that the device had been “tampered with” and was “rendered inoperable,” according to records. The temporary cease order on the elevator was lifted on June 3. The landlord did not respond to requests for comment.

Charles Waisbren, the father of the man killed Thursday, told the New York Times that his son repeatedly complained about the building’s elevators.

“It was a point of constant consternation,” he said.

The fatality highlights the ongoing push for stringent enforcement safety standards for the city’s elevators. A report by TRD, published in January, underlined prior negligence by mechanics in maintaining elevators where fatalities had occurred, and a track record of lax oversight by the city buildings agency. The report also revealed that at least 22 people were killed in elevators in New York City from 2010 to 2018, and 48 more seriously injured.

TRD also found that landlords ignored certain elevator violations and owed more than $7 million in fines last year, almost half levied by the DOB. But these fines are minimal: Those who fail to conduct required elevator tests face up to $5,000 fine.

New York is one of the few states that doesn’t require licenses for professionals who handle the day-to-day maintenance of elevators. However, after almost a decade of failed attempts, the state Senate and Assembly this year approved a measure that requires elevator mechanics to be licensed.

The measure is yet to be signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but a spokesperson indicated Friday that the administration is reviewing the measure. The bill has not yet been delivered to the governor’s desk. Once that is done, Cuomo will have 30 days to sign the measure. If he doesn’t, it will effectively be vetoed.

The city’s elevator unions pointed to Thursday’s fatality as further evidence of the growing need for the legislation.

“We can’t let another innocent person die as a result of improper training,” Lenny Legotte, business manager for the International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 1, said in a statement in relation to Thursday’s incident. “It is time for New York to join more than 30 other states that already have strong elevator safety laws.”