Lawyer argued façade was safe 3 months before fatal accident

Three months before architect Erica Tishman was struck and killed by a chunk of debris from a midtown building, a lawyer representing the building’s owner argued the façade was safe.

Jonathan Weiss, an attorney at the real estate consulting firm Jack Jaffa & Associates, made the argument at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings on September 12, according to the Wall Street Journal, which obtained a recording of the hearing.

“The photos and the allegations, even taken together, do not substantiate the claim that there’s any kind of a falling hazard,” said Weiss, who had been hired by the owner of the 729 Seventh Avenue property, Himmel + Meringoff.

The hearing came after the Department of Buildings issued a violation against Himmel + Meringoff for failing to maintain the building’s façade. Earlier last year, the owner paid a $1,250 fine, however there was no record the damaged terra-cotta identified by inspectors was repaired.

A DOB official presented photographs at the September hearing showing the terra-cotta, according to the Journal. But Weiss disputed the suggestion that the façade posed a risk.

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Cracks in the structure, Weiss said, couldn’t be seen “with anything other than binoculars”.

Following reports of the death, a representative for the company said they were “saddened by this tragedy and our hearts go out to the family,” adding that “the company will fully cooperate with the City in the ongoing matter.”

Two weeks after the incident, the building owner filed a lawsuit against a neighboring landlord, claiming they had held up the repairs by refusing to grant access to their property, Crain’s reported.

The incident raised wider questions about the safety of structures across the city, and an analysis by The Real Deal found that many landlords routinely defied requirements to inspect and repair their buildings’ façades.

According to the analysis, there were 4,790 Environmental Control Board violations related to façades issued over the past nearly six years, and more than half remained active. [WSJ] — Sylvia Varnham O’Regan