NEW YORK - Non-essential construction was ordered to stop more than a week ago in an effort to contain the spread of  coronavirus, but some contractors are not complying.

Demolition continued Monday on 124th Street between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevards illegally — until city inspectors shut it down.

"God forbid somebody gets sick from the buildings being demolished, you can’t even get into urgent care," said Kim Smith, a Harlem resident.

The order allows certain essential construction sites to continue, such as hospitals, homeless shelters, and utilities. The project on 124th Street is considered non-essential, and had already been a point of contention in the Harlem community prior to the spread of  COVID 19 — due to concerns about dust and debris among other issues.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer says the site is notoriously a problem spot, but had this message for anyone disobeying the mandate.

“We are in a crisis and you are the worst kind of actor in a very troubled city. Stop," Brewer said.

The Department of Buildings didn’t have data readily available about how many non-essential sites they’ve had to shut down, but a spokesperson did say contractors should know that inspectors are out in force to carry out the order. The agency says when its catches illegal construction, it will use the full weight of its authority to shut the sites down.


Fines are up to $10,000 for each violation, but Smith says enforcement is most important as some contractors aren’t phased by fees.

“You may have money, but where are your morals? You may have money, but what about the health and safety of people in your communities?” Smith asked.

"We take our responsibilities as builders and as good neighbors very seriously and recognize these are difficult times for everyone. As per the Governor’s Executive Order and clarified by NYC Buildings Department, the construction of affordable housing is considered ‘essential’ and therefore may continue,” Carthage Advisors said in a statement Tuesday evening. “Marcus Garvey Village is 60% affordable housing, creating 170 homes for low income families. At all times, we work to protect the health and safety of our workers and look forward to continuing to partner with our neighbors and elected officials to complete a project that everyone can be proud of."

The city buildings department says residents should call 311 if they see any non-essential construction. For an interactive map showing which sites are essential, they can visit