Ask an Expert

What should I do about an unsafe building facade in my neighborhood?

By Alanna Schubach  | November 4, 2019 - 9:00AM

This is a public safety risk and should be reported ASAP. 

Paul Beavers / Flickr

How can I make a completely anonymous complaint about an unsafe building facade? I live near a building with a crumbling facade that's both unsightly and potentially dangerous. I don't want to call 311 because they make you give your name and address, but I'm worried about someone getting injured because of this.

You should certainly report this ASAP, because it's a public safety issue, our experts say. There are a few options for doing so, some of which are anonymous. 

Dialing 311 is usually the best option for making a complaint about dangerous building conditions. 

"The best way for the public to inform the City of New York about a potentially dangerous or a hazardous condition is to call 311 or work thorough the 311 online portal," says Michael T. Reilly, an attorney with Norris McLaughlin. "The key is to be specific about the location so that when the city sends out an inspector to follow up with the complaint, they know where to look at the building. The caller should also consider taking pictures of the condition as well in case of any follow-up questions." 

Operators at 311 do ask callers for some identifying information so they can follow up with you, but when complaints are passed on to the Department of Buildings, they are kept anonymous, says a spokesperson for the DOB. The agency receives a description of the complaint and a reference number for keeping track of it, but not the caller's name or address. 

If the building is over six stories tall, you have another option. Under the city's Facade Inspection & Safety Program (FISP), buildings that are six stories or more must have their exterior walls inspected every five years. Since this building sounds like it needs to be inspected, you could try calling the FISP unit directly. 

"The DOB wants to know about these situations, and as soon as a problem is reported they take a conservative approach, because they don't want an accident to happen," says Stephen Varone, president of Rand Engineering & Architecture. "And FISP has beefed up their inspection crew, so they'll send someone out to investigate." 

But if you're wary of making official reports to city agencies, you could try directly contacting someone who works for or owns the building. 

"If it's not an obviously neglected building, there's no reason not to notify management or super. You could leave a note if you don't know anyone," Varone says. "You can't presume that the owner knows about the situation and is consciously doing nothing." 

Whomever you choose to contact, you should do so quickly. What you're describing sounds like a dangerous situation that must be repaired now. 

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Alanna Schubach

Contributing writer

Contributing editor Alanna Schubach has over a decade of experience as a New York City-based freelance journalist.

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