A lawsuit filed on behalf of 55,000 co-op owners in New York claims that a massive asbestos scare cost them more than $20 million. Now, they want their money back.
According to an article in the New York Post, a city of New York Department of Environmental Protection inspector removed a tile from a vacant Co-op City apartment in 2005, taking it to a lab for testing. The adhesive on the 40-year-old tile showed a trace of asbestos. That miniscule amount of asbestos material resulted in an all-out abatement and the re-flooring of the co-op’s more than 15,000 apartments, as well as a massive bill that shocked those who were tenants at the time.
A lawsuit, set to be filed this week in Bronx state Supreme Court, claims that some 86,000 air quality tests that have been conducting in the building – both before and after the re-flooring – show no signs of high asbestos levels and no airborne asbestos fibers. The suit claims that city inspectors were overzealous and that they frightened residents into believing they were in danger of developing diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma if the work wasn’t done.
“All of the facilities in New York City have this glue. All of the Mitchell-Lama developments have this kind of glue, and nothing is [airborne] and no one else is being forced to pay,” said former Assemblyman Stephen Kaufman, the attorney representing the tenants’ RiverBay Corp. in the suit against the city and the DEP. “It is absolutely Alice and Wonderland-ish.”
The lawsuit notes that the asbestos testing and precautions have cost $4 million annually, representing a 4 percent maintenance increase for each owner in the building. Furthermore, the suit claims, the one-man job of replacing tiles in each apartment turned into a much more complicated project involving “a half-dozen specialists dressed head-to-toe in blue hazmat suits, with decontamination tents set up in the basements of the 35-building complex.”
According to RiverBay’s Kevin Keenan, who oversees all of the abatement projects, the simple tiling jobs that should have cost about $300 escalated instead to about $4000 per apartment. Residents are appalled. While he admits that the safety of residents is important, Keenan also sees the measures as overkill, noting that no maintenance individual working in the complex has ever claimed to have gotten sick due to asbestos exposure.