State Senator Tony Avella held a press conference at D&D Glass Company on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst last week, a building that over the past few years has suffered extensive damage in the form of cracks in the floor an walls.
The damage was first noticed when construction began on a neighboring site in approximately 2008. Since then, the damage has gotten worse.
Work at the site is also believed to be responsible for cracks in a neighboring firehouse. And last year, an immigrant worker was killed when a 20-foot-high concrete wall fell on top of him.
The site is being developed by Tommy Huang, who over a 20-year development history in New York City has a documented record of building and construction violations.
“Every piece of property this individual has touched has become a problem for the city,” said Avella, “and has become a problem for the neighboring property owners.”
Avella wants the city to stop issuing building permits to developers with numerous building violations. He also wants the city to aid adjoining property owners who experience damage to their own homes and buildings due to neighboring construction work.
Currently, affected property owners have to file a private lawsuit to pay for damages or recover losses in such situations.
“If somebody gets mugged on the street, the police come to your aid,” said Avella. “Why is it in the City of New York that when these property owners get 'mugged' by a developer, the city says you have to privately sue and we're not going to help you?”
Which is the case with the owners of D&D Glass, who were reluctant to discuss the damage to their building due to a pending lawsuit, but did call on the city to hold developers like Huang responsible.
“The people affected must be compensated and made whole again without having to wait years and incurring expensive late fees,”James Demitriou, whose family has owned the building since the 1940s, said in a statement.
Paul Graziano, an independent urban planner, also cited the example of Robert Scarano, an architect who became notorious for filing shoddy and unlawful buildings plans with DOB at sites across Brooklyn.
“They went after Scarano - the Tommy Huang of Brooklyn - but he's an architect, so they finally pulled his license,” said Graziano. “They can't do that with Tommy Huang.”
This is not Avella's first experience with this issue. While serving in the City Council, he introduced legislation that would give DOB the power to deny building permits to unscrupulous developers, but he said last week neither the mayor or the speaker of the City Council would support the bill.
Instead, a law was passed that would hold contractors who continually violate building codes responsible.
“What happens is [the developer] just gets another contractor and another contractor and another contractor,” said Avella. “And if Tommy Huang buys another property, the City of New York will give him another building permit. That's the insanity of all this.”