Mayor and DOB Announce Overhaul of Sidewalk Construction Shed Rules

Mayor Adams and city officials announce the “Get Sheds Down” initiative. Image Credit: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

Sidewalk sheds stay up for an average of over 500 days, but some stay up for several years. On July 24, 2023, Mayor Eric Adams and Department of Buildings Commissioner Jimmy Oddo announced “Get Sheds Down,” an overhaul of the rules relating to sidewalk construction sheds (scaffolding). While the sheds are required for construction, facade inspections, and repairs, existing laws often enable property owners to leave up the construction sheds for a long time, and can result in quality of life concerns. The “Get Sheds Down” plan aims to incentivize owners to expedite repairs, make traditional sheds more visually appealing, and find alternative safe solutions to scaffolding where appropriate. 

Currently, around 9,000 construction sheds are permitted and active. These sheds stay up for an average 500 days, and take up nearly 400 miles of space on city sidewalks. The Department of Buildings’ Facade Inspection and Safety Program, in compliance with Local Law 11 of 1998, requires owners of properties over six stories to have their exterior walls inspected every five years. Buildings that are found to be unsafe will require the placement of a construction shed for pedestrian protection, and the shed is required to stay in place until the unsafe conditions are resolved. When construction projects face delays or stalls, or the owners fail to complete the necessary repairs, the sidewalk sheds remain in place for months or years at a time. 

The “Get Sheds Down” overhaul includes nine strategies to fix long-experienced issues with sidewalk sheds including: expanding the use of safety netting; reimagining sidewalk sheds; redesigning existing sheds; new recurring fines for some sheds; additional fines for owners in certain business districts who fail to meet certain milestones on facade repairs; improving oversight of shed permits; targeting longstanding sheds; exploring loan programs for struggling property owners; and reevaluating Local Law 11 inspections. 

The City will pilot the use of safety netting as an alternative to the sidewalk sheds for facade work on the Queens County Supreme Court located at 88-11 Sutphin Boulevard in Jamaica. The permit for the shed at this site was first issued on April 21, 2017, and the shed has been in place for almost 2,500 days. All city agencies will also be required to explore the use of safety netting for construction projects on buildings owned by that agency or for projects sponsored by the agency. 

The Department of Buildings will request proposals for new design ideas from architecture and engineering experts on how to modernize the sidewalk shed and how alternative materials, netting or designs can be less obtrusive and still affordable. Selected designs will be incorporated into the Construction Code. Buildings aims to have these designs implemented by the end of 2024. 

While this request process occurs, the administration will also work on making immediate changes to the existing plywood and pipe design of the sidewalk sheds. Enhancements include lighting requirements, allowing art to be installed on shed panels, and more color choices beyond the hunter green color currently required by the Construction Code. 

The Adams administration and Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine will work to advance legislation to establish new monthly fines for building owners with sidewalk sheds that are not directly related to new construction or demolition projects. The fines would start 90 days after the shed is first permitted and issued every month following until the shed’s removal. Fines would be capped at $6,000 per month, and to encourage faster removals penalties would be waived if owners take action to remove sheds within an allotted time. Buildings that employ safety netting instead of sheds, and one- and two-family homes would be exempt from these penalties. 

Increases to penalties for property owners within certain business districts can encourage owners to take faster action to repair their buildings. Under the proposed changes, these property owners could face a $10,000 penalty if a shed is up for an unsafe facade and the owner fails to file a repair application within three months, obtain required work permits in six months, and fully complete repairs within 24 months. This will begin in Midtown Manhattan, Long Island City, Downtown Brooklyn, and on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. 

The administration will work with the City Council to implement new fees for renewals of a sidewalk shed permit and fines for sheds that remain in place after a permit has expired. Shed permits will be valid for 90 days at a time instead of 12 months, requiring owners to renew the permit up to four times a year. Penalty waivers for expired shed permits will no longer be granted. 

Buildings will also expand its Long Standing Shed program. The program targets sheds that have been standing for over five years and implements additional oversights to compel owners to complete the facade work. Additional oversights include regular site visits from inspectors, and potential criminal court actions or litigation for owners who fail to comply with repair orders. The program will expand to include sheds that have been in place for longer than three years which will add over 500 sheds into the oversight program. Properties in the program are eligible for penalty waivers if the work is completed and sheds are removed within an allotted timeframe. 

The administration will also partner with Manhattan Borough President Levine to work on building a low-interest loan program to give financial support to struggling small property owners who do not have the financial resources to complete required facade work. 

Finally, Buildings will conduct a study to review the frequency of inspections required by Local Law 11 and the Facade Inspection and Safety Program to see if the City can use less frequent or onerous inspections without compromising pedestrian safety. 

Mayor Adams stated, “We have nearly 400 miles of scaffolding in New York City, taking up public space that belongs to New Yorkers and the millions who visit our city every year. Imagine visiting Rome, Tokyo, or Rio and seeing scaffolding everywhere. New Yorkers wouldn’t be happy with these unsightly constructions in other cities, and we shouldn’t be ok with them here at home. For too long, bureaucratic rules have stood in the way of progress, but today, we are turning the page and overhauling these rules from the ground up with our ‘Get Sheds Down’ plan. This plan will flip the script so that property owners are incentivized to complete safety work and remove sheds instead of leaving up these eyesores year after year. This is how we reimagine our city, revitalize our business districts, and build a safer, more welcoming city for all.”

Buildings Commissioner Oddo stated, “Sidewalk sheds are an important public safety tool to protect New Yorkers from hazardous conditions, but they are no substitute for proper building maintenance. When owners leave up a gloomy pipe and plywood shed for years, while repair work stagnates, they create a tangible negative impact affecting the whole block. This comprehensive plan will compel building owners to make needed repairs so sheds can be removed more quickly — improving public safety while also transforming how we think about pedestrian protection in our city.”

Jackson Chabot, Director of Advocacy and Organizing at Open Plans, stated, “Building a livable city is all about centering, and improving, New Yorkers’ experience of streets and public space. This is a great opportunity to do just that. Sidewalks are among the most abundant public space we have, but scaffolding is plunging them into darkness for months and even years at a time. It’s unsightly, unwelcoming, and obstructs our right of way. Kudos to the mayor’s office and the Department of Buildings for prioritizing the mobility and comfort of New Yorkers who use our sidewalks every day.”

By: Veronica Rose (Veronica is the CityLaw fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2018.)

Mayor: Mayor Adams, DOB Commissioner Oddo Unveil Plan to Remove Unsightly Sheds, Scaffolding From NYC Sidewalks (July 24, 2023).




Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.