Buyers greet balcony safety issue with a big yawn

Nice balconies and views, but the city demands, "Keep off."

A woman I know called me in great distress last week to ask whether there was some way she could back out of her contract to buy a $560,000 one-bedroom co-op in a building that the city has cited for having potentially unsafe balconies.

Of course, I told the woman, who is not my client, to consult her attorney since the contract would provide the last word and it is not my habit to jeopardize my license by practicing law.

At the same time, I expressed doubt that there was any way out.  Because the defect was unknown at the time that she went into contract, it could not, by definition, be considered an undisclosed defect. So, whether the balconies might materially affect the value of any apartments in the building is beside the point.

In the event you missed the New York Times story on March 17, the piece began this way:

Thousands of residents in 16 buildings across New York City have been ordered to stop using balconies that were found to be unsafe by the Department of Buildings.

Referring to (but not specifically identifying) Sherman Square, a 42-story apartment tower at 201 W. 70th St., the article noted that the 1972 building is studded with concrete balconies with metal railings. Such is the case with dozens of buildings in the city constructed in the same decade.  The Times continued: 

Residents of the tower were surprised when they arrived home last week to find notices from the city telling them they were forbidden to use their balconies. They were also warned that if inspectors from the Department of Buildings saw anyone on a balcony, they would seal off the outdoor space, residents said.

The article went on to quote a Department of Buildings officials as saying that inspectors had visited more than 530 buildings across the city, except Brooklyn, since a 24-year-old man fell to his death when a railing of his rental apartment gave way last March at 330 E. 39th St. in Manhattan.  Those in which the city closed down balconies also were rentals–1675 York Ave., 300 E. 75th St. and 1365 York Ave. in addition to 330 E. 39th St.

I got to wondering over the weekend whether the woman who called me was typical of buyers, not only in the sole Manhattan co-operative or condominium for which balcony access now is forbidden, but elsewhere.

After calling around to a dozen or so listing brokers with signed contracts from the Upper East Side to Chelsea and the Upper West Side, I have to say that none acknowledged having heard of concerns expressed by anyone involved with their listings or through the grapevine.

Whether any other prospective buyers or those under contract (besides the woman who contacted me) have had reservations about co-ops and condos that have balconies, I cannot say for certain.

However. . .

I can report that five listings in Sherman Square were taken off the market in May either permanently or temporarily.  (A couple occurred before the public announcement, and brokers with listings there expressed little concern about the balconies in the current issue of New York magazine.)

But I wouldn’t read too much into that number taken off the market: Of six apartments now listed as active there, three had prices unchanged, one went under contract after the Times story appeared for an undisclosed price, one had its price cut from $649,000 to $625,000, and one had its asking price raised $40,000 to $1.835 million.

How do you spell c-h-u-t-z-p-a-h?

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Malcolm Carter

Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker

Senior Vice President

Charles Rutenberg Realty

127 E. 56th Street

New York, NY 10022

M: 347-886-0248

F: 347-438-3201

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