Put a tennis ball on one floor of Arthur Strimling’s South Slope home, and the suddenly precocious sphere will take on a life of its own.
“It will roll to the other side of the house,” observed Strimling, whose home, his lawyer charged, now rests “at a slant.”
This wasn’t always the case. But after a real estate developer constructed a fiveâˆ’story building at 406 15th Street, strange things allegedly began to happen in and around Strimling’s home at 399 16th Street.
Telephone poles and trees began to sink 10 feet down in the ground, residents like Tim Pietrzak said. Retaining walls began to take the shape of a capsized ship.
It was roughly around 2006 when Armory Heights LLC began work for the now completed, Bricolage designed building, Armory Plaza. Around that time, Pietrzak started to get a sinking feeling. “You could touch the wires on the telephone pole,” he recalled.
Pietrzak and Strimling are among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Armory Heights, seeking $35 million in compensatory damages, and $100 million in punitive damages.
Strimling said that just to hire engineers to investigate their home’s predicament and offer recommendations could cost $100,000. “We are going to stick this out. We’re quite certain justice is on our side,” he said.
This week, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Laura Jacobson agreed to draft a court order preventing the developers from selling the property, pending a court hearing scheduled for August.
Michael Hiller, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said the developer dug down 60 feet, and failed to shore up or brace the surrounding property, resulting in the property damage. His client’s concern, he said, is that if the property is sold, his clients would be “left without a remedy.”
Defense attorney Ravi Batra said the plaintiffs, who include the Memorial Baptist Church on 16th Street, are simply using litigation “as a stickâˆ’up gun.” He said his clients, Armory Heights principals, Jack and Lorenzo LoCicero, have been the subject of phony complaints to the Department of Buildings, (DOB), an agency he said that has been unduly harsh on his clients, who performed a “black tie” construction job, meaning it was done to limit damage to adjacent properties.
Batra said property owners now suing prevented contractors from backfilling, or replacing lost soil, to the site, and are themselves responsible for any damage subsequently incurred.
“All the property owners have a claim for is bags of dirt. They are the ones who left it exposed. If they have new damage, they will have to eat it, because they could have prevented it,” Batra said.
Hiller was also not pleased with the DOB — the agency charged with monitoring construction sites. He accused the agency of being “asleep at the switch.” Particularly galling, Hiller claimed, is that the developer is uninsured, but DOB let the project proceed nonetheless. “How they could let this project go with no insurance is unexplainable,” he said. Batra has rejected Hiller’s insurance claim.