Autumn Has Arrived – Are We Responsible for Fallen Leaves?

Image Credit: CityLand

How to collect your fall leaves and properly dispose of yard waste. Autumn has arrived, and with it, the annual plethora of fallen leaves in every shape, color and size. A New York City resident or commercial business owner is responsible for keeping sidewalk areas free from any obstruction that could impede pedestrian traffic. This begs the question, does such a requirement include a responsibility to rake, collect and set out fall foliage?

Are property owners responsible for clearing their sidewalks of fallen leaves?

Under New York City’s Administrative Code, leaves are defined as “yard waste” or “organics waste” and includes: leaves, grass clippings, garden debris, vegetative residue (parts of a plant or vegetable), small or chipped branches, and similar material.

Clearing fall leaves in New York City is voluntary and residents do not receive summonses from the Department of Sanitation for fallen leaves on sidewalks. However, if the fallen leaves are mixed with trash or debris, the homeowner/property manager must clean the area or face a possible summons. Under Sanitation’s Enforcement Routing Program, Sanitation enforcement agents will issue Notices of Violation for dirty sidewalks and for the failure to clear 18 inches into the street during the specified 2 one-hour daily enforcement routing time periods. Residential enforcement routing times citywide have been set as follows: 8:00 AM to 8:59 am and 6:00 pm to 6:59 pm. Although the commercial routing times vary by Sanitation District/Section where the business is located, all commercial premises should be maintained at the beginning and end of the day.

CityLand reached out to Law Department on the issue of liability of a property owner if, for example, a pedestrian were to slip and falls on leaves. Law Department noted that they would review any such liability issue under the factual circumstances and on a case by case basis. CityLand legal research returned no successful personal injury cases in New York State based solely on injury from fallen leaves. Case law has set a precedent that leaves on a sidewalk are considered open and obvious and by themselves are not inherently dangerous even if they are wet, or raked into a pile.


How should a resident properly dispose of their yard waste?

The Department of Sanitation will always collect your yard waste on your regularly scheduled trash collection day as long as it is placed in Sanitation-approved paper bags, black bags, or unlined trash containers labeled “Yard Waste Only.” However, Sanitation strongly urges residents to recycle their fall leaves which is turned into soil-enriching compost and redistributed through a Compost Give Back program.

Free paper lawn and leaf bags may be obtained by residents while supplies last at specific neighborhood events in Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island. Alternatively, lawn bags can also be ordered (free of charge but limited in quantity) from Sanitation’s online order form.

For residential homeowners, there is no limit to the amount of yard waste that can be put out for collection as long as yard waste is produced by residents and not landscapers. Businesses have the option of arranging for collection by a private carter, transporting yard waste themselves, or processing the yard waste on-site using methods such as composting or aerobic/anaerobic digestion.

A full description of yard waste set-out requirements may be found at the Department Sanitation’s online Leaf and Yard Waste resources page.

Fallen leaves and wet sidewalks and roads can result in slippery conditions. Image Credit: CityLand


When does the Department of Sanitation conduct special collections?

Sanitation conducts two seasonal “special collections” during which residential leaves are collected and turned into compost. These special collections occur in specific and limited borough locations in November and December. If you do not live in an area or within a community board zone which offers a collection date, then you are required to dispose your leaves along with your garbage. For residents living outside the special collection zones, alternative composting options are available here.

Every spring, Sanitation hosts Compost Giveback Events where NYC residents can get up to 10 40-pound bags of free New York City Compost made by Sanitation. This year, Sanitation reported a record-breaking compost distribution season during which it gave away more than 2,272 tons of compost. You can find more about Sanitation’s Compost Give Back program here.


For Queens borough residents in community boards one, three, four, six, and twelve, residents should collect leaves for compost in paper lawn & leaf bags or in unlined rigid containers and ensure bags are set out for collection at the curb after four pm on Saturday, November 23, 2019 and Saturday, December 7, 2019.

The Bronx

For the Bronx, residents in community boards five, seven, and nine, residents should set out leaves curbside in paper lawn and leaf bags or unlined bins after four pm on Saturday, November 16, and Saturday, November 30.


In Brooklyn residents in community boards five, nine, fourteen, seventeen and eighteen, residents should set out yard waste on the curbside in paper lawn and leaf bags or unlined bins after four pm on Saturday, November 16 and Saturday, November 30.

Staten Island

Staten Island borough residents in community boards one, two and three should have their leaves set out curbside in paper lawn and leaf bags or unlined bins after four pm on Saturday, November 16 and Saturday, November 30.

You can find the Department of Sanitation’s 2019 Fall Leaf Collection Schedule and a list of alternative composting options here.

By: Abby Cannon (Abby is a CityLaw intern and a New York Law School student, Class of 2020.)

2 thoughts on “Autumn Has Arrived – Are We Responsible for Fallen Leaves?

  1. You mentioned, that it is best to put the leafs and wars waste back into the ground. After I have collected the year waste, is there someone I can give it to, so it can be reused? As I live in the city, I don’t have much of a yard, or garden. I would love to give it to someone else if it could help them though.

  2. What if I don’t have trees in front of my home am I responsible for leaves that blew down the block from someone with trees whos not sweeping at all

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