Sinking Tower’s Homeowners Sue San Francisco, Developer

  • Residents claim engineering flaws were hidden to boost sales
  • Millennium Tower developer already sued by city, residents

The Millenium Tower in San Francisco, California.

Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Homeowners in San Francisco’s sinking, tilting luxury high-rise are suing the city and the building’s developer over claims they hid engineering flaws for years.

Twenty tenants who collectively paid about $75 million for condominiums allege the city and Millennium Partners knew as early as February 2009, before the units were sold, that the structure was unstable, sinking more than four times engineers’ estimates while continuing to tilt in the earthquake-prone city.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued the developer in August, claiming Millennium Partners alone knew that the 58-story tower was sinking faster than expected.

John Cote, spokesman for Herrera, said the city shares the frustrations of Millennium Tower’s residents.

“Any notion that the city was somehow involved in a conspiracy to defraud residents is ridiculous and completely baseless," Cote said in an e-mailed statement. Millennium Partners and its vice president in San Francisco, Sean Jeffries, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

Friday’s complaint in San Francisco state court is the second filed by residents seeking class-action status. The earlier case includes allegations of unfair business practices, creating dangerous conditions and breach of construction standards. The new complaint, alleging conspiracy to commit fraud, says the city’s Department of Building Inspection and the developer colluded to keep secret the condition of the multibillion-dollar project linked to redevelopment of a nearby city bus terminal.

Earthquake Vulnerability

“At present, the building has sunk at least 16 inches vertically and is tilting northwest 2 inches at its base and 15 inches at its highest point," according to the complaint, which was filed by Jerry Dodson, a lawyer who is also a Millennium Tower resident.

Claiming the tower is vulnerable to damage in an earthquake, Dodson says residents weren’t told of the structure’s flaws until a 2016 homeowners association meeting.

The building continues to shift because it stands on a thin pile of soft soil without being anchored to the stronger bedrock that lies beneath, according to the complaint. The pile of soil directly under the tower is constantly shifting under the pressure of the structure.

The residents cite a 2004 case in which a smaller building using similar construction techniques was planned in the city. The Department of Building Inspection stopped that project when engineers determined it was too heavy, concluding it would sink and remain vulnerable in an earthquake, according to the complaint.

Millennium Tower is both taller and heaver than the 2004 project, according to the filing. 

The case is Buttery v. Jeffries, CGC-17-556292, Superior Court of the State of California (San Francisco).

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