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My neighbor's construction has left a dangerous pile of debris near our building and is attracting cat-sized rats. What's our recourse?

By Virginia K. Smith | June 5, 2017 - 12:59PM 

For a year, the building behind us has been doing construction work, and dumped a huge pile of debris from demolition left in a trash heap outside. It's an old building, so we suspect there may be lead paint and/or asbestos in the debris, which has also attracted cat-sized rats. We've sought help from 311, the local police precinct, and our community board's district manager. What's our legal recourse for getting this debris cleaned up without paying for it ourselves?


For a problem this serious, you should be able to get the city to intervene, and may want to explore options for publicly calling out the building's owners or mortgage lenders, say our experts.

"If 311, the local police precinct, and the community board manager's office are ineffectual and you want it cleaned up without paying for it yourselves, file complaints directly with the NYC Department of Buildings," advises Douglas Elliman Property Management's Thomas Usztoke. From there, the city can issue an Environmental Control Board violation against the property owner and contractor(s) involved, he explains. (You can find the complaint forms and instructions online here.)

"Information on building ownership and [to whom permits have been issued] can be found on the NYC Department of Buildings website, if you choose to approach the matter neighbor to neighbor," says Usztoke. If you haven't already reached out to the building's owners directly, it's worth letting them know about the problem, and about your safety concerns.

To up the ante, you also may want to find out if there's a mortgage on the property, so you can get the building's bank involved, as well. (The DoB website has instructions on finding a building's mortgage history here.) "Write to the owner and the mortgage lender, and copy the Community Board," says Kevin McConnell, an attorney with Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue, & Joseph LLP (a Brick sponsor).

In addition to the Community Board, McConnell also recommends alerting your local City Council member. Though the timeline for cleanup is variable, "The Department of Sanitation will eventually send a crew to clean up, and then put a lien on the property for the costs of cleaning," he explains. "But you have to get your local elected officials involved, and embarrass the mortgage lender or bank."

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