Safety concerns rise as advocates seek streamlined scaffolding laws
Scaffolding has transformed into an unintended skyline spectacle in the city, catching the attention of residents and city officials, including Mayor Eric Adams.
A recent report by the Citizens Union not only labels these structures as eyesores but also raises significant safety concerns, prompting calls for a streamlined approach to the law mandating their presence.
“There is an example of scaffolding that plagues the city,” says Betsy Gotbaum, the executive director of Citizens Union pointing at a shed on 81st Street and Central Park West. "It's ruining landmarks, it's ruining our buildings, it's ruining small businesses and bodegas."
Gotbaum wants the law that has led to nearly 9,000 sheds around buildings across the boroughs addressed. Citizens Union's report shed light on some of the detrimental impacts of these structures.
“The danger of if you walk at night underneath them, things like rats, a lot of waste accumulate there,” says Gotbaum.
The safety concerns highlighted in the report indicate 52 accidents resulting in injury or death in the city between January 2018 and May 2023, with eight incidents occurring last year alone.
Last December, Adams, joined by Assemblyman Al Taylor, made a symbolic move by taking down the city's longest-standing shed in Sugar Hill, which had been in place for 21 years.
“Twenty-one years and as we looked around the city, we seen too many sheds have become permanent fixtures of our landscape of our city and we said no to that,” said Adams at a news conference on Dec. 22.
His administration has been advancing efforts as part of its "Get Sheds Down" plan. Officials say the city has removed 75 sheds that have been up for over five years. The Citizen Union report hails the mayor, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine and members of City Council, which has proposed fines as well as rent reductions if buildings have scaffolding for extended periods of time. Gotbaum says the culprit responsible is Local Law 11.
“Why can’t we just get rid of Local Law 11? Keep the safety factors, I’m all in favor of safety factors, but the part that allows these things to stay up for years - get rid of it,” says Gotbaum.
Local Law 11, also known as the Façade Inspection and Safety Program, requires owners of buildings to have their exterior facades inspected regularly, identifying and addressing potential hazards posed like loose bricks that could fall. Building owners are obligated to make necessary repairs. Currently, more than 15,000 buildings are required to undergo inspections every five-year cycle, with the majority of those in Manhattan.
Residents shared their concerns.
“If you’re walking your dog, it's a great bonus. But other than that, it is an eyesore and maybe dangerous after a while,” says Marty Edel, Manhattan resident.
“I don’t even recognize what my building looks like anymore,” says Skylar Martinez, another Manhattan resident.
Gotbaum believes in order to make real changes, Local Law 11 must be streamlined and all efforts centralized.
“Probably the best thing is the mayor’s office, one entity in charge of doing something about the scaffolding,” says Gotbaum.
A source close to the mayor's office says that’s exactly what his administration is working on. Part of the shed plan will bring on a consultant to study Local Law 11 and figure out an effective model for inspecting buildings.