Neglect Caused Partial Roof Collapse at Vacant Harlem Building, Says DOB

By Jeff Mays on July 6, 2012 9:35am 

A view of a partial roof collapse Wednesday at a vacant building at West 123rd Street and Lenox Avenue occurred due to neglect, according to the Department of Buildings.
A view of a partial roof collapse Wednesday at a vacant building at West 123rd Street and Lenox Avenue occurred due to neglect, according to the Department of Buildings.
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Stacy Parker Le Melle

HARLEM — A partial roof collapse Wednesday at a vacant building at West 123rd Street and Lenox Avenue occurred due to a "lack of maintenance," according to the Department of Buildings.

"Our inspectors determined there was a partial roof collapse due to lack of maintenance and water damage," said DOB spokesman Tony Sclafani.

"An ECB violation was issued to the owner for failing to maintain the building in a safe and compliant manner."

Residents of Mount Morris Park have been demanding that the DOB take action at the landmarked building where scaffolding has been up for nearly a decade.

"Local residents are very concerned about the integrity of this dilapidated structure and are demanding help from DOB to take action," Laurent Delly, vice-president of the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association, wrote to the DOB.

"We have pedestrians and young children passing in the area on a daily basis and feel unsafe to walk near the building and strongly believe the entire building should be shut-down," he added.

The partial collapse occurred shortly after 2 p.m. at a four-story building at 260 Lenox Avenue, near West 123rd Street, according to the FDNY.

A stop work order is in effect at the building which has also been hit with a slew of other violations. The scaffolding has become an unwanted gathering point for people in the neighborhood who drink alcohol, loiter, use drugs, exercise and urinate under its shadow.

The owner of the structure, who would only identify himself by his first name Asherif, said the accident was not that serious.

"It's not neglect," he said.

"We are working with the DOB and Landmarks to get permits." He said he plans to renovate the building for residential and commercial use.

Asked about the scaffolding that has been up for eight years, Asherif would only say, "We are taking care of it."

Area residents said it's a line they've heard before.

"We thought it was just a matter of time until the situation at 260 Lenox would nosedive," said Stacy Parker Le Melle who owns a brownstone next to the vacant building with her husband, Ed.

Ed Le Melle heard the "boom" of the partial collapse and called his wife over to look at it from their window.

"Every storm, we watched water pour directly into the damaged roof of the back structure because there was no proper drainage from the property's upper roof," Le Melle added.

The DOB's fines are not working, said Le Melle.

"We need to get to a point in this city where it is no longer a rational choice to rack up unpaid fines instead of repairing unsound structures," he said.

"Eight years is enough."

The partial collapse is the latest in a string of construction accidents and collapses in Harlem.

The May 4 collapse of a 45 foot tall brownstone at 110 West 123rd Street between Lenox Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard is also weighing heavily on area residents' minds.

"We certainly would not want the same thing that recently occurred to 110 West 123rd to occur again," Delly said.

Le Melle agreed.

"My nightmare is that a year from now, I'll still be looking down on a collapsed roof.  And it's only a matter of time until the structure fails again," said Le Melle.

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