New York City luxury building owners are not paying their employees what they’re supposed to be paying them. They might change their ways, if only the city gave them any indication at all that the rules are being enforced.

Today, ProPublica published a deep examination of NYC’s 421-a tax abatement, which grants real estate developers big tax breaks in exchange for things like keeping rent on some units affordable and paying doormen and janitors decent wages. Specifically, the 421-a owners are required to pay their workers something called the “prevailing wage”—a number, set by the city, that’s designed to bring non-union paychecks close to the standards set by relevant local unions.

Big surprise: plenty of owners who received tax breaks worth six figures are not holding up their end of the deal. That’s because the city department that administers 421-a claims it does not have authority to enforce it for landlords who don’t hold up their end of the deal. Whether this very big loophole was written into the law intentionally is “unclear,” ProPublica reports.

The story, which includes interviews with laborers who make several dollars per hour less than required by law, also functions as a poignant illustration of the people who keep New York City’s shiny towers running every day. Domenick Penteck, a doorman at a building that advertises itself as the “pinnacle of Williamsburg luxury,” lives in public housing and works two jobs to stay afloat. “They don’t care about a guy like me busting his ass, going to work and leaving one job and going to another job and not sleeping,” he told ProPublica.

Image of “The Exo,” one such luxury building, via Google Maps. Contact the author at