New York City gas explosion subject of federal probe

Comments (9)
njglea wrote:

A gentleman who lived in one of the buildings said on television the smell of gas was extreme a month ago and they reported it to the gas company. Sounds like the problem was not fixed.

Mar 13, 2014 9:04am EDT  --  Report as abuse
sabrefencer wrote:

Whomever, owns that building, whomever inspected that building, better hide..sorry, for the loss of life…just horrible…

Mar 13, 2014 10:22am EDT  --  Report as abuse
HortonPDX wrote:

@ezlivn: At least seven people dead and many more injured, and you think this is a time to make a lame (and failed) attempt at humor? Grow up.

Mar 13, 2014 12:58pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
paintcan wrote:

What doesn’t Reuters ever try to find the age of things? The age of the Malaysian plane still hasn’t been stated. These buildings look to be fairly new and are probably about 10 to 15 years old. The facade details don’t look like old buildings that have been given a face lift so the issue probably isn’t one of corroding pipes. The photo on the front page shows the interior walls but is too small to see if there are timber joist holes in the party wall. But the photos of the wreckage look like steel construction, I think?

Instead of sending just photographers, send someone to the Hall of Records on Chambers St. across form the City Hall and you can get the tax information recording the vitals of the structures.

I had to do that in Gard school at Columbia to research the Old Framers Trust/Citibank building in Lower Manhattan. Those records will take you all the back to New Amsterdam, if you want to time travel a bit.

@sabrefencer – All sorts of people will be sued: the City, Con Ed, the building owner, and I’m not even a lawyer. There’s probably an army of ambulance chasers hot on the heels of every tenant now. This is New York!

Mar 13, 2014 3:45pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
paintcan wrote:

@njglea – The problem probably was fixed but “the fix” didn’t fix it.

In fact, sometimes the fix makes another problem. I wonder if they are having a problem with freezing pipes? The basement may not be heated but only very much older buildings (older than 20 years )in NYC didn’t have insulated walls. And I think gas comes into a building very cold already. They were brick non load bearing or party walled and/or steel or concrete framed with hollow clay tile infill. The older apartment buildings all used to have single glazed, wood sash, double hung windows and leaked like sieves. There’s a lot of wood scraps in the rubbish but the facade looks like modern detailing i.e. plane stone trim that looks “contextual” but isn’t as expensive to build as the old stuff. They can’t afford the old stuff anymore even if there was anyone still producing it for big commercial jobs. That’s strictly historic preservation class today.

It’s a big city and even a few blocks of Harlem can hold more people than a whole town in the rural area I live in now. I can’t even dream about affording the rents in Manhattan. I’ll bet there are at least 250,000 people in Harlen alone and it isn’t a low rent area anymore. They say “Hispanics” but Harlem isn’t a favella or slum by any means. This area is or used to be called “Spanish Harlem”. These are the apartments of old timer’s kids who like the neighborhood and don;t want to live anywhere else.

Many buildings are owned and maintained by very large real estate trusts or REITs. Guys like Trump and Helmsley (passed on now) are known for their big buildings but there are hundreds like them in the city who maintain big portfolios of real estate of all types all over the city.

The property tax bills on these buildings are horrendous and that is why the rents are so high.

Over 30 years ago, I lived on the upper west side for a year during graduate school and the janitor told me the 13 story prewar apartment building – concrete framed, tile walled and big leaky single glazed windows took two tanker trucks of oil each winter alone. At that time you couldn’t control the thermostat in an apartment and it could get too hot. The building contained about 60 large apartments. They are all condos now. Owning a building (other than some townhouse types) is big business now and even the townhouses aren’t single family occupancy anymore. Even the small ones can have over 5000 sq ft and up. The middle class lived large in their day. The bigger ones on the East Side are really mansion scale and can be gigantic.

That apartment was old enough (probably between the wars) I could watch the elevator motor and switching apparatus at work while I did my laundry. It wasn’t as busy as you might think and it was the original motor. It was very durable and very reliable for a very old piece of equipment. The cab was original too. The cables are what have to be checked for wear. And all elevators have safety breaks.

One of the other headaches building owners have is due to the fact that many buildings of the prewar period, and even later, have masonry curtain wall facades with ornamental details in stone or terracotta that is effectively hung from the frame. The hanging brackets age and corrode and it is very likely many buildings (that can’t be torn down) will have to be, or are being refaced. The city is blanketed with many areas of historic preservation zoning so the owners are, or will be, stuck with enormous maintenance costs. NYC is not quite Venice yet but it could get there.

That is why I ask about the age. The year before I went to Columbia one of their buildings across the street lost some terracotta detail that killed a coed on the sidewalk. By the time I got there, a few months later, all of them had been stripped of the details and the sidewalk was covered with a protective scaffold walkway.

Explosions are not new to NYC. 50 years ago a steam or hot water tank (I think) blew up in the basement of one of the Bell telephone AT&T exchange buildings and shot through the upper floors like a missile. NYC is the only city I ever heard you could buy steam from a public utility. It’s a by-product of Con Ed.

In spite of the danger, Aristotle was right, the city is the only way to live. I’m feeling nostalgic. It’s the only place you can find something or someone from the whole world within an area about 5 miles wide and 13 miles long and it’s all accessible on foot or by PT. But it’s the city of the rich now.

Mar 13, 2014 5:02pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
paul-B wrote:

quick pay thousands of people to see if this was a terrorist!
what? negligent land lord?
oh that fine then, carry on.
also we need more money to keep you safe from terrorist.

Mar 13, 2014 6:51pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
paintcan wrote:

They were older buildings than I thought. The separate slideshow has better photos. They had wood frame floors and you can get a better view of the surrounding buildings to. They are older too. They look like a modern type of detailing but they have more modeling than modern work. The standing neighbor has a classical like cornice. They could have been as old as 150 years there abouts. They could have been two middle class townhouses but nothing fancy. If they are as old as the oldest estimate, when they were built Harlem was a substantial white middle class, and later substantial black middle class neighborhood. It’s just an educated guess.

It could be corroded piping and the whole line was leaking in different places? One place was patched and another place broke, perhaps? I wonder if they had a problem with leaking water pipes too? The lines could have been many, many decades old? An old facade fell down in Greenwich Village last year. It isn’t a simple task replacing piping in an occupied building full of tenants. They are well protected by law. It is not necessarily a matter of neglect on the part of the landlord. And many buildings were rent controlled so repairs are impossible. If they could get the tenants out, it is cheaper to tear them down. It’s quite possible nothing but age is at fault but that won’t stop the lawyers.

It isn’t likely this story will be run after a while so who knows?

The cockroaches probably survived and moved next door. New Yorkers live with cockroaches and rats, but you hardly ever see rats – once in a while running along the subways tracks. You can never get away from the roaches. As far as I’m concerned, that and the lower cost, is the only attraction of living in the sticks. We get deer and anything left outdoors that offers shelter will be infested with mice. Some here consider deer rural rats. They are very hard on the shrubs in winter and on gardens at all other times. What they don’t get, chipmunks and mice will gave at. I make my place rodent tolerant. It’s less frustrating.

I have heard, but never tried it, to save your own urine and spray it around to protect shrubs from deer. I always forget, so don’t know if it works.

Mar 13, 2014 7:06pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
paintcan wrote:

A federal probe sounds like over doing it. It was very likely old pipes. And when they find that, what can they do? The city has laws and both the federal and state constitutions protect the rights of property owners. They can’t demand that every building with old pipes be evacuated and renovated by landlords that may not be able to pay for it all, but I’m not sure that actually is an issue? Blighted buildings with condemnation postings also have a negative effect on the values of those around them. The landlord could easily walk away and leave them to the city for failure to pay property taxes and the city could hold them for years before anything was done. Neighborhoods do not like to see vacant lots. They are blights in their own right. The whole of the South Bronx went that way when COOP city was built. The property would also have to be rented at far higher cost than it is now. The city of the rich could become the city of the super rich because they would be the only ones who could afford to live in it. The only to way to prove a pipe is too old is perhaps to let it fail, in a sense. Or else failure is so common and the city building inspection office could prove the age and likely risk of failure for a whole class of buildings. How for old pipes? The manufacturers are probably long out of business. Basically, in life, you can have as much safety and law as you can afford or the city can. But you can also have too much law and an hypochondriacal desire for safety. That also ignores the possibility that the repair was badly done and the pipes weren’t at fault.

The city would have to condemn property and take it by eminent domain. It is not possible to spot condemn buildings by eminent domain either. They can condemn an individual building and demand it be repaired but eviction is a time consuming and expensive process. Eminent domain – and New York City is one of the most sophisticated legal environments and was the first city in this country to create zoning law and a building code, must be applied to whole areas deemed blighted or seriously substandard and that can take years of expensive court proceedings. At least it couldn’t do that thirty years ago and I don’t think that’s changed. If they want to renovate an area they would have to condemn both old and even new structures to satisfy the equal protection of the laws clause of the Constitution, Article V (but it’s a long time since I studied this and I’m fuzzy on the roots). They could start the war of the REITs because the city could now have the right under a Supreme court ruling of about ten years ago, to condemn the property of one landlord and hand it all to a private developer of their own choosing. It can’t be done easily because I have personally seen buildings in the Little Italy (now Chinatown area) that were so badly leaking from water damage (also 30 years ago) they had stalagmites on the hall floors. Those people have to have someplace to go and public housing has never been more unpopular.

Isn’t that likely to leave everyone reading this with a queasy feeling? Standards could be set so high – that a city that was eager to make jobs could condemn all sorts of buildings that are more or less adequate but not up to the new standards, and the new standards could be set by legislatures or town councils in thrall of big developers or the trades, that they trample all sorts of rights in the process. This is a far more complicated issue than can fit here. And some of these issues must be presented to voters.

This story is newsworthy now, but people forget they have a far higher chance of dieing in a car crash than of being blown up in a gas leak. The environment is never 100% safe.

Now that I brought up the Constitution, Bitcoins should be illegal. Only congress has the right to mint coinage and regulate its value (I just noticed). That and the fact that Bitcoins are prima facie stupid and won’t work as anything more than a fools attempt to hit it big through speculation. No one has thought to challenge their legality in Court? The people who get burned should challenge it as a racket, it seems to me. It’s almost a Ponzi scheme but glamorous because it’s digital and markets itself as a future trend.

Mar 14, 2014 1:37am EDT  --  Report as abuse
njglea wrote:

One gentleman on the news early on the day of the explosion said there was a very bad gas odor the month before the explosion and they reported it. This story need some serious investigative reporting.

Mar 14, 2014 10:32am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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