Owner faces criminal charges in fatal Midtown façade incident

Erica Tishman was killed while walking by 729 Seventh Avenue

Two years after Erica Tishman was struck and killed by a piece of terra cotta that fell from 729 Seventh Avenue, the building’s owner faces criminal charges for allegedly ignoring its hazardous conditions.

After learning of “deteriorating façade conditions that posed an immediate danger to the public,” the owner, an entity tied to Himmel + Meringoff Properties, failed to install a sidewalk shed and make repairs, the Department of Buildings said Thursday.

On Dec. 17, 2019, Tishman, 60, was walking by the Midtown building when she was struck in the head by falling debris from the building. Eight months earlier, the DOB had issued the owner a violation for failing to maintain the exterior of the property, noting “damaged terra cotta” in several locations, “which poses a falling hazard for pedestrians.”

“Owning a building in our city comes with a straightforward legal responsibility to keep the property in a safe condition, and make repairs when needed,” DOB Commissioner Melanie La Rocca said in a statement. “Ignoring this responsibility is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Landlords should know that delaying required building maintenance will lead to consequences.”

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The owner has been issued a criminal court summons for violating the city’s Administrative Code, the DOB said. A representative for the owner did not immediately comment on the charges.

The city requires owners of buildings taller than six stories to have the property’s exterior walls inspected every five years by a licensed professional and file a report detailing the conditions. At the time of the fatal incident on Seventh Avenue, the owners had last filed a report in 2013.

Last year, months after the incident, a report was filed with DOB detailing “widespread defective masonry,” “severely corroded structural steel” and “cracked” and “dislocated” terra cotta.

Officials have been exploring the possibility of incorporating drones in the façade inspection process. The DOB recently released a report underscoring the importance of preserving in-person inspections even if the technology is permitted in the city. Agency officials and inspectors point to sounding tests on terra cotta, which require hitting the material with a hammer to determine its stability, as one of the key reasons that hands-on assessments are still necessary.