STAMFORD – Embroiled in a complex lawsuit over its collapsing Harbor Point building, The Lofts, developer Building & Land Technology looked to lighten the number of claims it faces.
So BLT filed a motion requesting that a judge strike several of the claims brought by the New York City real estate investment firm that bought The Lofts from BLT in 2016.
But a judge has rejected BLT’s request.
So the claims by the real estate firm, Gaia, against Stamford’s biggest developer, landowner and taxpayer will stand. So does the massive lawsuit, which names BLT, 18 of its affiliates, a number of its contractors, and the city.
Gaia sued BLT last year, after it had to vacate all 225 Lofts apartments in 2022. It was discovered that the century-old wooden supports are rotting and shifting, causing the converted lock factory – six stories high and nearly three football fields long – to tilt and sink.
Walls, ceilings and beams at The Lofts are cracking; floors are buckling; and window and door frames are bending. Gaia representatives have said in court filings that they began seeing those problems in 2017, a year after buying the building from BLT.
In August BLT attorneys presented their arguments for striking a number of Gaia’s claims to Judge Sheila Ozalis in state Superior Court in Stamford:
- The Lofts purchase agreement prohibits Gaia from suing BLT.
- Gaia cannot seek money from BLT because when Gaia signed the agreement, it waived its ability to collect damages.
- Gaia cannot pursue certain claims because they are subject to a three-year statute of limitations that has run out.
- Gaia did not provide sufficient evidence to show that BLT sold The Lofts knowing the foundation is failing.
- Gaia cannot sue BLT because BLT didn’t sign the purchase agreement; its affiliates did.
But this month Ozalis denied BLT’s motion on all counts. Among the judge’s conclusions:
- The statute of limitations must be taken up during trial, not in pre-trial motions.
- Though BLT affiliates, not BLT, signed The Lofts purchase agreement, affiliates are subject to obligations in the agreement.
- Gaia presented sufficient evidence to allege that BLT breached its contractual obligation “to act in good faith,” and to allege that BLT failed to share information about problems with the building.
- Because there is evidence that BLT may have misrepresented the condition of the building, the purchase agreement may not be valid. That could, in turn, invalidate Gaia’s promises not to sue, and to waive any claims for damages.
BLT’s motion to strike the claims and the judge’s denial were a swing and a miss for the developer, caught in a lawsuit that began in November 2022 and will continue for about two more years. According to Connecticut’s Judicial Branch website, jury selection isn’t scheduled to begin until September 2025.
The Lofts was BLT’s first, and signature, Harbor Point building when it opened in 2010. It was reconstructed from the Yale & Towne lock factory, which put Stamford on the map as a manufacturing center more than 100 years ago.
After The Lofts, BLT erected multiple new luxury apartment high-rises in Harbor Point, the developer’s project to remake the old industrial South End.
But the historic factory building was reconstructed on its original wooden pilings, which now are damaged by dewatering, Gaia alleges. Dewatering happens when the water table beneath a building drops, exposing the pilings to air, which rots them. The pilings also are settling at a fast rate as the drier soil compacts, Gaia claims.
The water table beneath The Lofts dropped because BLT installed an impermeable liner to contain contaminated soil at the site, Gaia charges. The effect was that rain could not soak in.
The city had a role, too, Gaia alleges. City crews failed to maintain underground drainage pipes, further diminishing groundwater at the site, and failed to inspect the foundation when Gaia sought a permit to repair it in 2020, Gaia alleges.
The company further alleges that BLT took soil tests in 2010, when it was building The Lofts, but withheld the results. Gaia alleges that it discovered the foundation problems in 2022 after doing its own groundwater tests.
BLT’s attorney, Wendy Venoit of Cozen O’Connor in Boston, did not return a request for comment.
A spokesman for the New York City law firm Anderson Kill, which represents Gaia, said attorneys will not comment.
The Lofts building at 200 Henry St. now is empty and dark, surrounded by a chain-link fence and a proliferation of weeds. Gaia states in court filings that the building faces “inevitable demolition or destruction” and settlement is progressing “at a dangerous rate.”
Gaia executives have said the company’s insurance carrier will not cover any damage caused by dewatering. The company is seeking compensation from BLT “in an amount to be proven at trial,” the lawsuit states.