City investigators have launched a probe into the Department of Buildings after a three-story Carroll Gardens building collapsed in July — which came after a decade-and-a-half of violations and warning signs of its potential instability.
The implosion of the building at the corner of Court and Union streets, which had housed the Body Elite Gym, drew ire from local lawmakers who accused the owner of engaging in “illegal construction” and “willful negligence” — prompting them to demand a full investigation into both the landlord and the city for their respective handling of the now-demolished structure.
“This shameful track record suggests a combination of willful negligence and illegal construction work by the owner, resulting in a condition that was potentially deadly for occupants or neighbors, and extremely expensive for the City,” reads a joint letter addressed to DOI and DOB bigs from Councilman Brad Lander, state Sen. Brian Kavanagh, Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, and Rep. Nydia Velázquez.
Reps with the city’s Department of Investigation confirmed on July 30 that they had opened up their inquiry into the building owner as well as the DOB in following the collapse, but a spokesperson declined to go into specifics of the probe.
“This investigation falls within our standard practices with regard to construction accidents” said agency spokesperson Diane Struzzi in a follow-up statement. “However, because this is an active investigation, DOI declines to characterize the investigation further or provide any further detail.”
The letter from the cadre of politicians went on to question whether DOB officials engaged in “aggressive” enough oversight over the building’s owner, Ki Hyo Park — who had shelled out more than $15,000 in fines, mostly for failing to keep the building up to code, according to public records. Park could not be reached for comment.
In particular the legislators lambasted how DOB found repeated violations over the years, but that Park had simply paid the penalties, without addressing the underlying issues with the facade — such as complaints of a “dangerously bulging” wall in June 2020. City buildings officials did issue a partial Stop Work Order in response to that issue, but the legislators said the city should have vacated the premises and demanded the owner make emergency repairs to save it.
“Given the 14-year track record of hazardous conditions and lack of repairs, it must be asked whether DOB should have taken more aggressive actions, such as issuing a vacate order or making an emergency repair on the ‘bulging wall’ at the owner’s expense,” the lawmakers wrote.
For their part, DOB officials previously told this paper that the inspectors decided not to issue a more immediate emergency declaration, as those are usually reserved for buildings that are visibly about to collapse, such as burned-out houses after a fire or leaning structures.
A spokesman for the Buildings Department said they would cooperate with the ongoing investigation, claiming that it was common practice for the DOI to include their agency when investigating the owner of a collapsed building, such as the Court Street structure.
“Following major buildings-related incidents in our city, it is standard protocol for DOB and our partners in law enforcement to launch parallel, cooperating investigations,” Andrew Rudansky said in a statement.