At Bronx Building Collapse, 7 Open Violations But Few Clues About the Cause

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The seven-story building that partially collapsed Monday afternoon in the Bronx’s Morris Heights neighborhood was deemed unsafe three years ago and in the process of being repaired, but the engineer behind the work doubts the façade was the cause of the collapse. 

What happened at 1915 Billingsley Terrace at about 3:30 p.m. Monday was “a catastrophic collapse of the structural support at the corner,” said Richard Koenigsberg, whose engineering firm Koenigsberg Engineering was contracted to repair the building’s façade after it was flagged during a routine inspection in 2020. 

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The firm drew up a plan to repair washed-out mortar joints at the building’s corners, replace damaged sections of the brick façade and seal cracked concrete sills underneath windows and doors. Yet crews never noticed any structural damage of the property during the work, Koenigsberg said.

The building obviously wasn’t in great condition,” Koenigsberg said. “Connecting the dots from a façade being unsafe to a structural problem, it’s not a direct connection, other than there’s a chance that there’s problems elsewhere. It’s possible in hindsight that we’ll find something different, but this was not something that was on our radar that we were concerned about.”

City officials are scratching their heads over what may have caused about 150 square feet at the corner of the mixed-use apartment building to cascade toward the sidewalk, demolishing the ground-floor corner deli, Pimentel Deli Grocery. “A very neat collapse,” Koenigsberg said.

The city has been doing work on the water main in front of the building. Koenigsberg posited that drilling from that work could potentially trigger a façade collapse.

“Typically when buildings nearby are having work done, it compromises the foundation of the building,” Koenisgberg said.

Rescue crews searched the debris as darkness fell, and evacuated residents in the building’s 46 apartment units were ushered to temporary shelter beds at P.S. 390 three blocks away.

“Miraculously, no one was severely injured,” Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh announced on X  — formerly known as Twitter — late Monday night. “From looking at the scene and surveillance footage, it could have been so much worse.”

A spokesperson for the New York City Department of Buildings said in an email Tuesday that contractors began staging equipment for an emergency partial demolition of the building after the search for victims concluded Monday night. Half a dozen agencies and Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark are now turning their focus to the cause of the collapse.

That “investigation started as soon as we got to the scene yesterday,” the DOB spokesperson wrote. 

The building has seven open violations, and DOB Commissioner James Oddo said the department has reviewed them, but “they are not structural violations. It has to do with the sidewalk shed, the fact that it didn’t have proper lighting, et cetera.” 

But just last month, a DOB inspector cited the property for broken mudsills — a structural component, often made of concrete or wood, in the building’s foundation— and at least one missing vertical support column in the building’s cellar.

These defects “can compromise the structural stability causing a potential collapse,” the city inspector wrote on Nov. 3

The inspector’s report triggered a $2,400 penalty and a summons in the city’s administration courts, with a hearing date set for Jan. 19, 2024.

Building owner David Kleiner could not immediately be reached for comment, but told Gothamist “he did not know what caused the collapse.”

Property records show Kleiner purchased the property through a shell company for $3 million in 2004.

This isn’t the first building in the city tied to Kleiner that has had some problems.

Kleiner owns about 800 other apartments in the five boroughs and agreed to fork over $112,000 in penalties for lead safety violations last year, court records show. Kleiner also appeared on 2016’s “worst landlord” list by the public advocate, Gothamist reported.

Abigail Nehring can be reached at anehring@commercialobserver.com.