Ask an Expert

How can I make a neighboring building owner take down scaffolding that's been up for years?

By Alanna Schubach | March 28, 2022 - 12:30PM

When a shed or scaffolding have been up for a suspiciously long time, attracting crime or other problems, there are steps you can take.

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Question:

A neighboring building has had scaffolding up for at least three years for facade restoration work, but aside from maybe a day or two, there has been no work on the building. The area under the scaffolding has become a hub for drug dealers and crime. What legal steps can be taken to force the building owner to either complete the work or remove the scaffolding?

Answer:

Scaffolding and sidewalk sheds are put in place to protect construction workers and pedestrians in New York City, but if they remain up long after any work is done, you can file a complaint with the city or consider legal action, our experts say.

First, note that scaffolding is a work platform that runs up the face of a building or hangs from its roof, while sidewalk sheds are structures that have roofs and sit directly on the sidewalk to protect passersby from falling debris. 

“Sidewalk sheds are a necessity in our city to protect New Yorkers from falling construction debris and buildings that have been allowed to fall into disrepair," says Ryan J. Degan, deputy press secretary at the Department of Buildings.

"We also know that sidewalk sheds can become a nuisance for the community if they are allowed to remain in place year after year, when repair work at the building has stagnated. In recent years, the department has taken significant steps to crack down on long-standing sidewalk sheds that take up valuable space on our city’s sidewalks, initiatives which have contributed to a decline of sidewalk sheds citywide.”

The DOB issues permits for sidewalk sheds, and notes that the average age of a NYC shed is 255 days and 370 sheds have been up for over a year and a half. (You can also find more data on the city's sidewalk shed tracker.) Efforts to crack down on long-standing sheds include new regulations to issue penalties to owners when work is not completed in a timely manner, as well as routine inspections of sheds. 

Scaffolding and sidewalk sheds have become more common sights in recent years due to Local Law 11, which requires that buildings taller than six stories have their facades inspected and repaired every five years.

"Local Law 11 requires buildings to maintain their facades, and the scaffolding is put up to protect people from getting hit by bricks or debris," says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations (and FYI, a Brick sponsor). "You can't go to court and ask them to take it down." 

But when scaffolding or a shed has been up for a suspiciously long time, attracting crime or other problems, there are steps you can take.

"If the scaffolding has created unsafe or unclean conditions, a neighbor could institute a nuisance action alleging that the scaffolding, which was not in active use, was creating a nuisance," says Jeffrey Reich, a partner in the law firm of Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas. "This would be a challenging claim to maintain and the neighbor would need to be able to produce affidavits regarding the nuisance conditions. A less direct route would be to register complaints with the Department of Buildings through the city’s 311 line, in the hope that the city would take some action." 

And there's strength in numbers when it comes to raising the alarm about issues like these, so it's worth discussing with your neighbors and proceeding as a group. 

"As a group, you could write letters to the landlord inquiring about what's happening and when you can expect the scaffolding to come down," Himmelstein says. "You can escalate from there by bringing an HP action to force the landlord to do the work, or getting in touch with the city. Being persistent is key." 


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