Townhouse owners make federal case of cell tower next door

Lawsuit against Sprint seeks to resolve years-long dispute

317 West 77th Street (Google Maps, iStock)
317 West 77th Street (Google Maps, iStock)

When Gerald Kerner bought an Upper West Side townhouse with his wife in 2012, he noticed something unusual on the next roof.

The cluster of electrical equipment, he realized, was a cell phone tower. What’s more, there were antennas attached to his chimney that had been “painted to look like the brickwork,” according to a lawsuit he has filed in New York’s Southern District Court.

The federal lawsuit, against Sprint and T-Mobile, follows years of back and forth between the couple and the now-merged telecommunications providers, whom they accuse of breach of contract and trespass.

According to the lawsuit, the couple spent a lot of time on the sunny roof of their townhouse, but were concerned about the cell tower next door and hired an engineering firm to evaluate radiation emissions from the site.

The results, according to the lawsuit, showed “a predicted maximum [radiation] level of 1312% of the FCC standard,” which violated the federal agency’s rules and regulations.

The couple claimed the engineering company alerted Sprint of the problem and learned that Sprint had not taken radiation measurements itself. After negotiations, Sprint agreed to remove the antenna from the Kerners’ chimney and reimburse them for their engineering fees.

But by April 2019, Sprint had returned to the neighboring roof to conduct more work on the cell tower, the suit claimed. In the process, the company again installed camouflage antennas against the couple’s property.

The Kerners brought back the engineering firm to help them with the dispute, and a meeting was called on the neighboring roof. Afterward, the Kerners learned more about the extent of the impact to their property by deploying a selfie stick to survey new equipment attached to the townhouse by Sprint without permission, the suit claimed.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

By signing up, you agree to TheRealDeal Terms of Use and acknowledge the data practices in our Privacy Policy.

In response, Sprint said it was working to find alternative ways to position the equipment.

The couple kept up their push: Through “NINETY SIXTY LLC,” the entity they purchased their property with, the Kerners sent a letter to Sprint’s general counsel demanding action. They never got a response.

By February 2020, Sprint’s scaffolding in front of the townhouse had come loose and was blowing precariously in the wind, the lawsuit says. The police closed the street to traffic, blocking the Kerners from entering their home, the couple claims.

The Fire Department went to the neighboring roof, where they knocked down the door to the townhouse.

“The other ends of the Firemen’s ropes were tied inside the house to furniture and fixtures,” breaking a window and causing other damage, the suit said.

Frustrated, the Kerners found an ally in Assembly member Linda B. Rosenthal, who wrote to Sprint in February: “It is unacceptable for Sprint to trample the rights of homeowners in New York City and across the country.”

Sprint did not respond to a request for comment.

Write to Sylvia Varnham O’Regan at