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When scaffolding overstays its welcome (for an entire decade)

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Scaffolding is a fact of life if you live in the city, but besides being an eyesore, so-called "sidewalk sheds" can also turn into a neighborhood safety hazard. This is especially true when the structures linger for years, as they have on one Harlem block for more than a decade, the New York Times reports.

"With its murky corners and tiers of blue piping, the shed has become a jungle gym for strapping men and a hideaway for drug deals. Evenings feature camaraderie among street friends, occasional outdoor sex and the usual neighborhood drama," the Times writes of the scaffolding that's been plaguing the corner of Lenox and 123rd since 2004. Given that it provides a cover, the shed has also become a popular spot for public urination, and shows no signs of leaving, even though neighbors have been fighting it for years. 

As outlandish as it sounds, it's a more common saga than you'd think: a few years back, one rent-stabilized Upper West Side renter detailed a five-year scaffolding ordeal while her building (very slowly) underwent repairs. And unfortunately, getting rid of it will be an uphill battle: thanks to a 1998 city ordinance (commonly known as Local 11) , buildings taller than six stories are required to have hands-on inspection of their facades every five years, and until the landlord makes the necessary repairs (and as long as they keep paying to keep the scaffolding in place), the sidewalk sheds can stay put.

"It's clear that [the city is] not enforcing something," State Senator Bill Perkins of Harlem told the Times. "If you're required to put scaffolding up, who monitors it—not only that it's up properly, but that it's taken down in a timely manner?"

Given that the city seems either unable to or uninterested in clearing the sidewalks (and the views outside blocked windows), it's worth keeping in mind a few basic safety measures if the scaffolding in question is in front of your building:

  • Keep windows and terraces locked at all times.
  • If your building is able, think about hiring a security guard, installing razor wire and/or an alarm around the scaffolding, and instituting an ID system to keep track of workers that are coming and going
  • For renters, it may be unlikely, but it couldn't hurt to ask the landlord for a discount. Being a squeaky wheel might not help get the sidewalk sheds taken down any faster, but it could land you a (slightly) cheaper rent.

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