You Can’t Judge a Building By Its Cover
In too many recently constructed New York City buildings, shoddy non-union workmanship is hidden beneath a gorgeous façade. Residents pay the price.
Look up from the sidewalk at the new luxury condo in Long Island City called, simply, Hero. It’s impressive. The exterior decks wrap smoothly around the building’s northwest corner and look like piano hammers in mid-arpeggio. On the front side, alternating rows of light and dark cement continue the dramatic keyboard theme up a full 24 stories.
Go inside and learn about the promise of a yoga studio, a gym, a pet spa, a roof deck “sky lounge” and a Zen garden. It amounts to the type of luxury that the New York Times called “more evocative of Miami Beach than Queens.”
But according to the owner of a one-bedroom apartment at Hero, Marcos Chavez, “We didn’t get luxury. We just didn’t.”
That’s because Hero’s very enticing exterior apparently hides a more depressing truth: shoddy construction, malfunctioning elevators, and a raft of unfinished work.
Hero was built by non-union contractors.
In some new buildings billed as luxury living, all may not be as it seems from the outside.
An artistic exterior hides Hero's many non-luxurious shortcomings, including damage to the main lobby from flooding and a zen garden that has yet to be assembled. Text labels have been added to these images. -- Top-left: Silverback Development; Top-right and bottom: The New York Times
Silverback hired Rovini Construction for the concrete work. Rovini is a non-union contractor with a long record of worker abuse that includes wage theft, racketeering, and safety violations that caused the death of carpenter Angel Muñoz on a project in Manhattan.
During the construction at Hero the worksite experienced 71 complaints and 89 citations from the New York Department of Buildings, including several for cement and plumbing issues, according to the DOB public database. Rovini wrapped work on Hero in Fall 2019.
Shortly after the condo opened for occupancy in 2020, the tenant complaints began to roll in. A burst sprinkler pipe flooded the gym and damaged the apartments beneath as well as the lobby. Twice. The flooding forced residents to find alternate accommodations while the damages were repaired. Twice.
A video captured by a resident of Hero and shared with the New York Times shows water pouring from overhead light fixtures inside an apartment and down a common hallway. -- The New York Times
On a recent day, both elevators were out of service, forcing some tenants to climb more than 20 floors. And dozens of residents have complained about the unfinished Zen garden strewn with bags of sand and unpotted plants, and the unopened gym, undergoing a second repair due to the floods.
Recently the tenant frustrations reached a boil. Many of them interrupted a walk-through event at the building that was filled with prospective buyers to tell them first-hand about the multitude of problems that still exist in the structure more than 2 years after it opened.
The handsome exterior of the new luxury rental at 11 Greene Street in Soho belies the myriad problems residents have encountered inside. -- Apartments.com
Resident Tribulations at 11 Greene Street
Similar tenant frustrations are occurring at the seemingly opulent rental building at 11 Greene St. in Soho, Manhattan. It sports a grand 6-story brick and cement exterior that fronts what the developer, Arch Companies, calls a blend of “classic loft comfort with contemporary splendor.”
Arch Companies supposedly saved 20 – 30% in labor expenses when they hired non-union builders to do the cement, plumbing, and HVAC. It opened for occupancy in Summer 2021. Residents have complained of many leaks, loud mechanical noises, a malodorous smell, poorly installed fixtures, and pests
According to tenant complaints, this winter the building’s heating system frequently stopped working. Leaky pipes have caused flooding from the lighting fixtures and water-damaged sheetrock has had to be stripped away. One of the building’s elevators has never worked and a second is glitchy. And now at least 14 of the 31 tenants in the building have stopped paying a portion of their rent according to the New York Superior Court lawsuit docket.
The New York City 311 construction complaint registry has seen a dramatic increase in calls and activity in the years that non-union construction firms have proliferated.
As Non-Union Work Proliferates, A Torrent Of Tenant Complaints Ensues
Non-union contractors now comprise a majority of the city’s construction workforce, according to New York State, and their numbers are rising. At the same time, the rate of building defect complaints has also increased dramatically, according to Ingrid C. Manevitz, a partner and co-chair of the condo and co-op practice at Seyfarth Shaw, who estimates building defect complaints have gone up by a factor of 10 in recent years.
Ms. Manevitz explained, “Developers generally cut corners, but I would say more corners were cut as a result of the pandemic. In order to be profitable, they have to make up money somewhere.”
As we’ve been demonstrating here on Union Built Matters, many of those builders are protecting their profits by taking money from and rushing their workers, using cheaper materials, ignoring costly safety precautions, and much worse. And the negative results of these poor work conditions are now landing squarely on the backs of unsuspecting apartment shoppers. They’re impressed by a beautiful exterior, but they don’t see the truth of the building until the ceiling literally falls in on them.
One Hero tenant, who asked not to be identified because she was pursuing legal action, offered advice to renters considering new developments.
“Go with prewar,” she said. Good idea, because prewar is virtually guaranteed to be a union building. Go union. It’s the safest investment.
"Go with prewar" one resident of Hero warned prospective buyers. If you want assurances for your investment, go union.
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