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Last spring, our 12-story co-op in the Bronx began a major exterior repair job. After a few weeks of construction, the project was put on hold because of problems with the contractor, whom we subsequently fired. The board is planning to put the project out to bid again, and it looks like the work won’t resume until the spring. In the meantime, the sidewalk bridge installed in the front of the building is still up, and the owner of the dry cleaners next door has complained to our board that it blocks the sign to his store. In addition, the residents on the second floor of our building are grumbling that the bridge blocks out natural light into their apartments and that the debris and razor wire on the bridge are ugly. Plus, most of the lights under the bridge are broken, making it dark at night. Must we keep the bridge up throughout the winter even though there’s no repair work going on, or can we have it taken down and then put back once the project starts up again in a few months? There are no signs on the shed, so we’re not sure whom to contact.
Sidewalk sheds, those ubiquitous steel-and-ply-wood structures designed to protect pedestrians from falling debris during construction work, are longtime fixtures in New York City. According to the Department of Buildings (DOB), there are roughly 6,000 sheds (sometimes referred to as sidewalk bridges) currently installed throughout the five boroughs, covering more than one million feet (that’s 190 miles) of city sidewalks. While many people consider the sheds an eyesore (although a new design may change that; see box on p. 40), they are a necessity of life in a city with a building stock constantly undergoing repair, upgrade, and renovation, not to mention demolition and new development.
When a Shed Is Required
While it is understandable that the owner of the dry cleaner next door to your building does not like the sidewalk shed blocking his store sign, the New York City Building Code requires buildings taller than 100 feet to install a sidewalk shed that extends 20 feet beyond the building – even if the shed crosses the property line – during exterior repair work above or near where people pass. For buildings less than 100 feet in height, the sidewalk shed must extend five feet past the building. The shed must maintain this coverage for as long as the shed is installed, whether or not construction work is being performed.
The DOB also says that the sidewalk shed must not “unreasonably obstruct, either visually or physically, entrances, egress, driveways, and show windows of adjacent properties.” Store signs are another matter, however, and sometimes the shed installation cannot avoid blocking them. In such cases, a temporary store sign is usually installed on the shed, which your co-op should do as a courtesy for the store owner.
As for the second-floor residents in your building, they unfortunately will have to bear the inconvenience of the shed blocking out natural light into their apartments. However, razor or barbed wire installed on a sidewalk shed is prohibited and should be removed. The sidewalk shed also should not be used as a storage area for tools or materials or a dumping ground for litter or other debris. In addition, the broken lights under the shed are a safety hazard and must be immediately fixed.
The DOB requires the holder of the shed permit to post a 25-square-foot sign that states the name of the company holding the permit, the company’s address and phone number, and the permit number and expiration date. But since there is no permit sign on the shed, the original contractor is no longer on the job, and you haven’t yet hired a new firm, building management should call 311 to report the unsafe conditions and find out when the shed permit expires.
If your building has any unsafe Local Law 11/98 items, such as cracked bricks or loose masonry, the sidewalk shed must stay in place even if the project is on hold. The same applies to a building that has been downgraded to unsafe status because of overdue SWARMP (Safe With a Repair and Maintenance Program) items from a previous filing cycle, even if those items were not considered truly unsafe at the time of the latest inspection.
If, however, your building does not have any unsafe or overdue SWARMP items, the board does have the option of taking down the shed and reinstalling a new one once the project starts up again. But taking down the shed for three or four months and reinstalling it in the spring doesn’t make financial sense. Sidewalk sheds cost from $90 to $110 per linear foot of shed for the first three months, and then just five percent or less of the initial installation cost for monthly rental thereafter. (Those are the typical costs for standard installation by exterior contracting firms subbing out the job to a scaffolding company, whose direct costs are less.)
So, if your building is, say, 100 feet wide, the shed length would be 140 feet (100 feet plus the required 20-foot extension on each side). If the shed company charges $100 per linear foot, it would cost $14,000 to reinstall the shed, while keeping it up after three months would cost $700 per month (five percent of $14,000) or $4,200 for six additional months (three months until the project resumes, plus the first three months that the reinstalled shed would be in place).
Shed permits expire when the insurance of the shed company or contractor (or whoever applied for the permit with the DOB) expires, or a year from when the permit was issued, whichever date is earlier. The DOB will not automatically renew a shed permit, however. To get an extension, the project engineer or architect must provide a letter to the DOB documenting the condition of the building, the remaining scope of work, and the estimated time left to completion.
The DOB also won’t renew the permit unless the shed meets proper safety standards. A daily maintenance log must be kept for the shed (usually compiled by the building superintendent and/or the exterior contractor) documenting the condition of the shed, including lighting, signage, and supporting elements (planks, pipes, clamps, etc.) and made readily available at the site at all times. The DOB’s Scaffold Safety Team conducts spot checks and can issue violations and penalties of up to $2,000 for safety lapses or an expired shed permit.
Even with the proper extensions, however, keeping a sidewalk shed up indefinitely should not be a fallback option for a building owner. A shed is supposed to be installed to protect passersby, building residents, and staff while exterior repairs are being made; it is not put in place in lieu of repairs. Winter shutdowns and project delays are normal for most exterior repair programs, but a sidewalk shed that is left up indefinitely tests the patience of residents, neighbors, and pedestrians – not to mention the DOB. (Station Square Apartments, a co-op in Forest Hills, recently removed sidewalk sheds that were up for nearly seven years.) A neglected shed can be a breeding ground for crime and suspicious activities.
Finally, it’s important to remember that while sidewalk sheds are designed to protect, they are not a guarantee of safety. Tools, bricks, masonry, and other debris can bounce off the shed, miss it, or even go through it if the item is heavy enough. Your co-op board’s focus should be on hiring a new contractor so work can start as soon as the weather is warm enough and the job can be completed and the shed removed.
In the meantime, fixing the broken lights, removing the razor wire and debris, putting up a sign for the dry cleaners, and making sure the permit holder puts up its own required signage will help calm the frayed nerves of everyone involved.