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Not Knowing Who Built Your Building Can Cost You Big Time

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The evidence is clear, the experts have spoken: Union buildings are the better investment

If you are a shopper for New York City real estate, the single most important question you can ask your agent as they show you around is, “Was this building built by unions?” And if their answer is “No,” or even, “I don’t really know,” do yourself a favor and walk away. Because that property, which may look charming now, could end up being the bane of your existence.


The evidence of the qualitative differences between union work and work done by non-union contractors is now irrefutable and mountainous, some of which is detailed below.


But as one real estate agent told Union-Built Matters, “It’s actually really hard to see the differences between union work and non-union work when you’re shopping for an apartment. So much of the shoddiness can be covered up with a decent sheetrock job.” The agent asked for anonymity because he represents all types of buildings. He added “The issue with the problems that exist behind walls is that those are the structural-type, the very expensive-type of problems to have to fix. And they’re really hard to detect unless you’re a professional inspector.”


So we asked inspectors their opinions on this quality comparison. “Absolutely, there’s a huge difference,” one private-company inspector told us. “The union workers follow the spec, follow the safety guidelines. They perform specialized skills so they’re really the best at their part of the build. On non-union work sites workers are usually asked to do anything and everything. Even if they have no idea how to do that thing. Gotta do it anyway and hope it passes [inspection].”


Another inspector told us, “The crews on non-union work sites are often not as well-equipped as the union crews. Sometimes the non-union people are expected to provide their own gear. And that’s made worse by some of the managers who will rush the teams to meet deadlines that are given by the bosses. It’s not a good recipe.”


The evidence of this testimony is clear and conclusive. Union-built buildings are better built. Consider these “high-end” non-union projects.

The Seaside Condominiums at 161 Maiden Lane, Manhattan

Developer: Pizzarotti IBC, LLC

Non-union Contractor: Fortis Property Group

The problems that can be hidden behind the sheetrock are the "structural-type, the very expensive-type of problems to have to fix."

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The luxury high rise on Maiden Lane is leaning to the north and cannot be occupied until the situation is corrected.

A 58-story high-rise condominium in New York’s seaport district, built improperly on shifting ground and currently leaning to the north. The project has been stalled by the Department of Building for years while a solution is being sought and the developer and the non-union contractor fight over who is to blame. Units in the tilting, unoccupiable building are for sale starting around $2,100 per square-foot. Some other facts.

  • Juan Chonillo, a 43 year-old father of 5 died when he fell 29 floors in what is described as an extremely careless construction gaffe by the contractor.

  • A crane slammed a concrete bucket into the 34th floor, dropped concrete material onto the street hundreds of feet below, and damaged a large part of the floor’s deck.



Hero, at 24-16 Queens Plaza South, Long Island City

Developer: Silverback


The luxury high rise in Long Island City named Hero has experienced repeated flooding, frequent elevator outages and unfinished work years into being open for residents.

A luxury 24-story residence in a bustling multicultural neighborhood, beautiful from the outside and in, and built by non-union contractors. But according to the owner of a one-bedroom apartment at Hero, Marcos Chavez, “We didn’t get luxury. We just didn’t.” Tenants and owners at Hero complain of shoddy construction that has caused repeated flooding, frequently malfunctioning elevators, and a raft of unfinished work. Units in the leaking, unfinished building are for sale from $730,000 - $1.75 million. Some other facts.

  • A burst pipe flooded the gym and damaged apartments and the lobby beneath. Twice. Residents had to find alternate accommodations while the damages were repaired.

  • There are days when both elevators are out of service, forcing some tenants to climb more than 20 floors.

  • Tenants interrupted a walk-through event filled with prospective buyers to tell them about the multitude of problems that exist in the building.



11 Greene Street, Manhattan

Developer: Arch Companies


The luxury condo at Greene Street in Manhattan has had so many problems that almost half the residents have been withholding rent payments until the issues are corrected.

11 Greene St. is a grand 6-story brick and cement structure offering “classic loft comfort with contemporary splendor,” according to the sales web site. Built by non-union contractors, the living conditions at this luxury-priced residence have become so dreadful that almost half the tenants have stopped paying rent. Three- and four-BR units at this controversy-ridden building can be rented for $13,000 and $16,000 per month. Some other facts.

  • Residents have complained of loud mechanical noises, a mysterious malodorous smell, poorly installed fixtures, and pests.

  • They say that the building’s heating system frequently stopped working this winter.

  • Leaks have flooded from the light fixtures and water-damaged sheetrock has had to be stripped away.

  • One of the building’s elevators has never worked and a second is glitchy.



Waldorf Astoria Condos, Manhattan

Developer: AECOM Tishman

Non-union Contractor: Trident


The luxury condo at Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan are the site of multiple worker injuries and the contractor has been accused of discrimination in how it treated its employees.

A staple of New York City opulence being converted to a luxury high rise midtown condominium is the site of egregious discrimination, injuries and violations. Units are for sale at a median price of $5.6 million. Some facts.

  • The contractor ordered its employees (almost exclusively people of color) to enter the project through an entrance separate and out-of-sight from all other workers. Workers called it “the poor door.”

  • One worker fell from an unapproved ladder and suffered a gruesome leg injury.

  • Weeks later the same accident happened again to another worker.

  • Mid-project, Tishman stopped paying their employees.



2 Blue Slip, Brooklyn

Developer: Brookfield Properties

Non-Union Contractor: Casino Development Group


The luxury condo at 2 Blue Slip in Brooklyn has seen numerous residents move out due to pipe leaks, inferior craftsmanship, and other issues.

This waterfront luxury condo was built by non-union contractors and tenants are fleeing due to its many construction flaws, which include gushing leaks from the ceiling, low-quality finishing and cabinetry, and leaky kitchen sinks. Units here are for rent from $3,800 - $16,000 per month. Some facts.

  • There were numerous DOB safety complaints throughout the construction phase, including “Worker fell,” “Unqualified foreman” and “inadequate pre-shift inspection”

  • Among the many other postings are worker injuries and accidents and reports of general “unsafe conditions,” like blocked walkways in construction zones.



If It’s Not Union-Built, It’s Probably Not Worth The Price

Residents at each of these buildings (except 161 Maiden, which is currently uninhabitable) are on record voicing their regret over buying or renting in a “luxury” building that was built by non-union contractors. Through their stories of inconvenience, difficulty, and financial loss, they warn New York City real estate shoppers to find out what’s going on behind the sheetrock before they buy. And the best way to do that is to ask, “Was this building built by unions?” If their answer is “No,” or even, “I don’t really know,” do yourself a favor and walk away.

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