Owner ordered to restore and maintain landmark

Owner of Skidmore House allowed it to fall into state of disrepair. Skidmore House, a 159-yearold Greek revival residence located at 37 East 4th Street, was designated as an individual landmark in 1970. Since acquiring Skidmore House in 1988, the owner, 10-12 Cooper Square, Inc., neglected to maintain it and ignored several requests by Landmarks to repair it. After the roof collapsed in 2002, Landmarks sued the owner to return the landmark to a state of good repair as required by the Administrative Code. Landmarks wanted the owner to make the exterior of the building watertight to prevent deterioration and maintain the interior and the exterior architectural ornamentation. The owner claimed that the building was in good repair, that Landmarks’ interpretation of good repair was unreasonable and, although Landmarks presented minutes from Skidmore House’s August 18, 1970 designation hearing, that the building was not a designated landmark.

Justice Walter Tolub first ruled that Skidmore House was duly designated, finding that, although Landmarks failed to notice the designation vote in the City Record, the owner did not provide sufficient evidence of irregular conduct by Landmarks to diminish the presumption that officials will complete and comply with their legal duty.

The court, noting that Skidmore House’s floors were buckling and its metal ceiling and roof collapsed, ruled that it is Landmarks’ sole responsibility to determine if a building is in good repair. Courts should only intervene if this determination was unreasonable and, with Skidmore House, Landmarks decision was reasonable. The court then ordered the owner to restore and maintain the exterior in a state of good repair and give Landmarks access to the interior to determine if other repairs were necessary.

City of New York v. 10-12 Cooper Sq., N.Y.L.J., Dec. 28, 2004 at 18 (Tolub, J.) (N.Y.Cty.Sup.Ct.).

CITYLAND Comment: On February 2, 2005, the City Council approved an amendment to the administrative code to allow Landmarks to seek civil penalties against owners who fail to maintain a landmark or a historic district building in good repair and that failure causes or could cause significant deterioration. In the previous text of the code, civil penalties could only be sought if an owner demolished the building, removed 50 percent of two facades, or performed work to impair its structural integrity. When originally proposed in 1997, the authority to seek civil penalties for failure to repair was included but was struck from the final text under strong opposition from religious organizations.

The February 2005 amendment defines “significant deterioration” as a failure to keep a character-defining feature reasonably watertight or structurally sound and to specifically exclude conditions that allow “some water penetration” or “slight structural deterioration.”

Council: Intro 0403-2004 (February 2, 2005). CITYADMIN

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