Two New York City trade groups sued the city's Dept. of Buildings (DOB) last week over the agency's approval of work on prefabricated building units for Atlantic Yards' B2, a $117-million modular residential tower in Brooklyn.

Rendering Courtesy of SHoP Architects
Legal Grounds?: The groups charge that DOB's approval for the work violates the core Construction Code requirement.

The groups—Mechanical Contractors Association of New York and the Plumbing Foundation City of New York (PFCNY)—charge that the work was conducted off-site and without supervision of DOB-licensed master plumbers and fire suppression contractors, which the groups say violates core Construction Code requirements.

"Plumbing and fire suppression work performed in a factory by workers not under the direct and continuing supervision of DOB-licensed master plumbers and licensed master fire suppression contractors does not comply with the text and the strict safety mandates of the code," the plaintiffs say in their suit, filed July 8 in the State Supreme Court, New York County. DOB Commissioner Robert LiMandri is also named in the suit.

"“The majority of the work—especially the gas piping, plumbing piping and the sprinkler piping—is being installed in the individual apartment units off-site and is not being done by licensed firms," says Stewart O’Brien, PFCNY executive director.

DOB said in a statement that it requires on-site installation of plumbing or fire suppression systems to be performed by a licensed trades person and that the systems must meet the city's construction codes standards "regardless of where the parts are assembled."

In a separate statement, a spokesman for Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner Cos. said that the factory work is completed by union labor and approved by a licensed engineer according to building codes. Licensed professionals "are responsible for installing these system at a construction site, not the manufacturing or assembly of these systems before they reach the site," it adds.

The suit, however, may not get very far in court because the trade groups appear to lack standing to pursue the case, says Eric Su, an industry attorney with New York-based Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.

That is because the building code sections at issue are intended to protect the prospective occupants and the neighbors of the building under construction. "The [licensed trade] groups themselves are not placed in imminent danger by the interpretation of the building code by the city DOB and its commissioner, so they lack standing to bring this case on that basis," says Su, who is not involved in the case.

Also, the suit seeks to enforce certain sections of the building code or to have the court interpret them, but it is the DOB and LiMandri, "and not New York State courts," that have that job, Su says.

He adds that the DOB and LiMandri will likely seek to have the suit dismissed for lack of standing.

Some 60% of the work on the 32-story B2 tower is done in a factory. Designed by SHoP Architects, the tower is set for completion next summer and is expected to be the tallest modular apartment building in New York City. The "Stack," a seven-story apartment building in Upper Manhattan that recently topped out, currently holds that title.

(This story has been corrected as follows: The groups bringing suit identify themselves as licensed trade groups, not union groups as originally reported. It has also been updated to include comments from PFC and provide more information.)