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City of ‘Oops!’ Next-door construction leaves E. 14th St. tenants homeless

BY PHYLLIS ECKHAUS | Once more, luxury development next door has destabilized old and historic housing stock, leaving tenants homeless.

On Nov. 28, due to the effects from construction work on a planned 24-story tower at 644 E. 14th St., the Department of Buildings ordered the roughly 30 tenants at 642 E. 14th St., just west of Avenue C, to vacate their 16-unit walk-up, built in 1900.

One tenant described his plight to The Village Sun as “especially galling” because he and neighbors began calling 311 — and raising the alarm to their landlord, D.O.B. and anyone else who might listen — as soon as they saw cracks appear in their walls in July, when developer Madison Realty Capital began excavation next door.

D.O.B. finally visited his apartment in October, only to suggest the cracks in his wall might be “cosmetic.”

“I am so frustrated,” the tenant said, noting he has yet to receive an explanation regarding the city’s and the landlord’s failure to protect tenants.

(Photo by Allie Ryan)

He told The Village Sun he would be “couch-surfing” for a month, with “no idea what to expect in 2024.”

This is the second time in less than a year that MRC construction in Lower Manhattan has resulted in emergency vacate orders, displacing longtime tenants, some with rent-stabilized apartments.

In 2021, MRC received approval from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to demolish 14-16 Fifth Ave., and replace it with a tall, luxury condominium with fewer units. This past February, construction work resulted in the destabilization of 10 Fifth Ave.  and 12 Fifth Ave., and a continuing vacate order for 10 Fifth Ave., with the evacuation of 30 residents in 14 apartments.

The Fifth Avenue block is part of the Greenwich Village Historic District, theoretically under the special protection of L.P.C.

MRC secured the rights to build “14+C,” its contentious, extra-tall, 24-story tower on E. 14th Street, by purchasing air rights from the New York City Housing Authority, with the money to go to repairs of the neighboring Campos II NYCHA site. In addition, MRC agreed that around 50 of about 166 proposed rental units would be “affordable.”

The developers purchased air rights from Campos Plaza, the neighboring New York City Housing Authority complex, allowing them to build taller than the site’s zoning would normally allow. (Photo by Allie Ryan)

Mayor Adams has famously declared New York City to be open to construction — as he has dubbed it, the “City of Yes.” And many assume that massive residential projects will be a blessing given the city’s severe housing shortage.

But as Marie Ennis, a principal with the engineering firm Old Structures, observed to The Village Sun, the bigger the excavation, the greater the risk to surrounding structures: “Dig a big hole in the ground, and the building [next door] wants to move to that hole in the ground.”

The risks are greatest for historic structures adjacent to construction, she said, noting that lately she is seeing “crazier and crazier excavations next door to little, old buildings.”

Real estate construction attorney Mitchell Troyetsky noted that the New York City Building Code gives next-door homeowners extensive rights, but only when they are savvy enough to protect those rights in advance of construction. For example, he said, being on the adjacent property’s insurance policy is not sufficient to secure coverage: There must be a separate agreement.

Tenants, by contrast, have fewer rights. The Cooper Square Committee is involved in organizing the displaced E. 14th Street tenants.

(Photo by Allie Ryan)

City obeisance to developers has arguably altered the risk calculus with regard to construction. Andrew Berman, executive director of Village Preservation, told The Village Sun that in his 22 years at the helm of the group, he used to routinely reassure owners of historic homes that they had little to fear from construction next door.

Berman remarked that construction disasters in the Village “were exceedingly rare until three or four years ago, and now they’re a frequent occurrence,” accelerating, as he put it, at a “frightening pace.” He said he can no longer offer reassurance to homeowners who fear next-door construction.

In another recent development, perhaps indicating how much L.P.C. may have shifted from its once-aggressive defense of historic buildings, the commission is entertaining a new proposal for construction next door to the Merchant’s House Museum, the E. Fourth Street institution between Lafayette Street and the Bowery.

The museum, an intact 1832 single-family home, received landmark protections for its exterior in 1965, immediately following the birth of the L.P.C. In 1981, its interior was landmarked, a rare distinction reflecting the complete uniqueness of the building, which boasts original chamber pots, floorboards and ornate plasterwork.

Attorney Michael Hiller, who represents the Merchant’s House, explained to The Village Sun that because the museum building predates poured concrete foundations — and was actually built on rubble — adjacent excavation work puts it at extreme risk of damage or collapse, as does the next-door construction of any new building weighty enough to compress the soil.

And although the developer would be strictly liable for any damage, Hiller observed that nothing could replace the historic or educational value of the existing museum.

“How do you measure the value of 1832 plasterwork?” he asked. “It’s literally priceless.”

For information on homeowners’ rights regarding adjacent construction, the Society for Clinton Hill has posted a useful guide.

An earlier version of this article misquoted attorney Mitchell Troyetsky regarding tenants’ rights. The writer deeply regrets the error.


  1. Mary Mary July 16, 2024

    I read a day or so ago the landlord of Mo. 662 is going to take the old building down. Too much damage from the construction next door. You would think by now the city has learned something about how vibration from construcction is a problem.

  2. Patricia Beresford Patricia Beresford December 11, 2023

    A truly troubling trend than neither LPC nor DOB seems to be paying attention to. These abuses are allowed to continue with apparently no repercussions for the developers or the city. I hope the Village Sun will continue its excellent reporting on this issue.

  3. DuchessofNYC DuchessofNYC December 11, 2023

    Why isn’t the construction company required to house them until their building is safe? If their work displaced them? Whenever someone does excavation next to your building, your landlord should get an engineering survey done prior to any work, so that if your building gets damaged, you can prove that it was due to the construction. Otherwise the builders try to weasel out of fixing any cracks or damage, and and DOB will often decline to issue violations, saying it could have been a “preexisting” problem.

  4. STEVEN G HILL STEVEN G HILL December 11, 2023

    “Tenants have no rights with regard to the developer next door. They are, Troyetsky said, “at the mercy” of their landlord.” I heard through the grapevine tenants @ 10 5th Ave were given 2 weeks in a hotel and then they were on their own to find an apt.

  5. Jane Jane December 11, 2023

    These stories are extremely disturbing and the displaced tenants need help from the city so they can survive.

    Future construction in similar situations
    should be taken very seriously and our historical buildings protected.

    Thanks for these articles that call attention to the blatant abuse of power and need for more community support and action for accountability.

  6. 14 BC neighbor 14 BC neighbor December 10, 2023

    Neighbor of the vacated building here — the Red Cross provided emergency hotel rooms for up to five nights. End of story. I understand from several displaced tenants that the City is not providing any assistance specific to them; one family was told they could go to a homeless shelter.

    • Eve Eve December 11, 2023

      That is horrible.
      Unbelievable that the city is not ensuring long-term hotel stays in Manhattan for these residents.

    • Theresa Theresa February 4, 2024

      This is horrible. Have you and your neighbors found housing? This sounds so shifty. Can your group find a lawyer? Hope good news come to your group.

  7. SLM SLM December 10, 2023

    Given NYC’s ability to use Manhattan chain-tourist hotels to house the migrants, surely NYC should be providing these tenant-taxpayers with free hotel rooms in decent Manhattan hotels

    • Miriam Miriam December 11, 2023

      I totally agree. But Adams has a contract with a crony to provide free hotels for migrants, at over $375 a night to taxpayers, while he couldn’t care less what happens if any actual New York resident ends up homeless. There is nothing in it for him to help them.

      • DuchessofNYC DuchessofNYC December 12, 2023

        That’s not accurate. I think it’s $175 a night. Giuliani and de Blasio did this too, as I recall …. It’s definitely a loophole that should be closed: If a neighboring owner causes you to be homeless, they should pay to rehouse you.

  8. Ali Ali December 9, 2023

    Could Village Sun report on where the City has provided emergency housing for residents forced to vacate?

    • Ictinus Ictinus December 15, 2023

      Too bad there’s not a city agency delegated to monitor construction practices so this kind of tragedy doesn’t happen especially when certain developers have a pattern of disregard for safety and the communities where they wield their craft.

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