Williamsburg tenants sue owner, city over “highly dangerous” rooftop battery 

Landlord trying to install lithium ion battery on rooftop

Williamsburg Tenants Sue Owner, City Over Battery Storage
315 Berry Street (Getty, Google Maps, Williamsburg Tenants Sue Owner, City Over Battery Storage)

The plan to put lithium ion battery storage on the rooftop of a Williamsburg apartment building is becoming a lightning rod for residents, who are suing their landlord and the city.

Tenants at 315 Berry Street filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court this week, seeking the reversal of an August decision by the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals allowing the rooftop installation. The tenants say the special use permit granted by the BSA allows for an “experimental” and “highly dangerous lithium battery storage system” at the 49-unit building.

The lawsuit claims BSA’s decision was wrong because of jurisdictional issues and a legal error that was an “abuse of the Board’s discretion.”

Among their claims is that they are in a rent-stabilized building and therefore, changes to things such as roof access — restricted by the battery storage — need to go through the Division of Homes and Community Renewal. 

The plaintiffs further claim the battery storage system would increase the fire risk at the property, citing a structural engineer’s report that could not “determine the roof slab’s adequacy to support a worst-case scenario,” such as a fire and meltdown of the system. The plaintiffs also claimed that the landlord did not try hard enough to find a place for the battery storage system where it would be permitted as-of-right.

Attorneys representing the tenants and the landlord did not respond to a request for comment. 

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A representative for the BSA declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

MicroGrid Networks has been pursuing the battery storage system for the rooftop of the seven-story building for years. It aims to put 2.5 megawatts on the roof at the behest of landlord Richard Herbst. Residents have expressed concern that the building can support a 300,000-pound battery bank, especially when the property allegedly has cracks and floods and open violations as of last year. In 2021, part of the building’s facade fell into a community garden, leading to a partial vacate order.

The FDNY signed off on the idea as the city pursues battery storage sites to pursue a greener future, explaining that it is difficult to find ground-level battery storage sites in New York City.

MicroGrid has said its lithium ion phosphate batteries do not catch fire. Similar battery banks already exist on the Barclays Center and JFK Airport’s TWA Hotel.

The safety of lithium ion batteries, which are different from lithium ion phosphate batteries, has gained attention recently. This year, fires caused by batteries in e-bikes have caused 13 casualties in New York City. After a fire injured 37 people at a Midtown apartment building, some co-ops began banning e-bikes.

Lithium ion phosphate batteries, by contrast, are considered non-combustible except under extreme conditions.

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