BRIDGEPORT — The city slapped a Bridgeport landlord with multiple building code violations after part of a facade on a three-story apartment building came crashing to the ground earlier this month.
The facade on the building at 28th Street and Normal Avenue came down around 11 a.m. May 18. Although no one was hurt, a huge pile of stone masonry and other debris piled up on a sidewalk used by kids and families on the way to local schools.
The six city citations, issued last week, say building owner Simon Lam "failed to maintain the exterior walls of a building or structure free from holes, breaks, loose or rotting boards or timbers." The violation noted that the a "second floor section of the limestone facade is loose and not supported" and said a steal beam header at the point where the facade collapsed "has much rust with failed sections."
City workers, however, did not notice the now-collapsed facade's precarious state during an inspection a month earlier, on April 16.
In that visit, inspectors went to check the progress on repairs Lam had made to an exterior stairwell from a complaint phoned in to 311 in November.
At the inspection, Lam was shown to be in compliance with city code after he fixed all outstanding violations at the building, including maintaining working smoke detectors in all six units of the building, city records show.
Although inspectors appeared to have thoroughly scoured the building during the visit, "I'm not sure they documented" the problems with the northern wall, Lam said last week.
City Department of Buildings spokeswoman Mimi Simon said the inspectors that visited last month "were there for a purpose, and the purpose was to verify compliance with the approved permit that they pulled to rebuild the stair system" and install handrails.
The problem with the facade, though, was one that Lam worried about before; he had hired Burbank-based B&M Masonry to fix it at the end of last year.
"I saw the limestone pieces start bulging," contractor Stanley Bierowiec said in an interview. "That's when I told [Lam] it needed to be done because it can collapse."
Bierowiec said he went to City Hall to apply for the required permits, but a clerk in the buildings department shot him down, saying he couldn't proceed because the old violations at the building hadn't been fixed at the time.
"That was last year. And with all the problems we had with the crazy winter, more damage was done," Bierowiec said of conditions that led to the collapse.
But the city's Simon said there was no record of the visit nor any attempt to pull a permit. And even if a clerk had stopped contractors from proceeding, Lam could have fixed the facade after the building was given a passing grade last month, she said.
"It's your responsibility to know your facade is crumbling," Simon said. "It's your responsibility to make repairs."
In an emergency situation, "we would quickly work with an owner to get a permit," she said. " ... We are always going to let people take care of problems."
Lam, who had been critical of the city bureaucracy, said he was now working to fix the new violations as soon as possible. Last week, crews installed a protective canopy over the sidewalk below the facade, which has been covered in a tarp.
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