New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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The Basics of Barbecuing

Summer’s here, and in making rules on barbecuing, boards need to consider the Fire Department of New York’s (FDNY) stringent regulations as well as insurance and legal ramifications.

“Between fire-code regulations, disposal of debris, and the smell, very few buildings allow barbecues at all – even if they comply with the regulations,” says Steve Greenbaum, director of property management at Charles H. Greenthal. And some boards have put sharp teeth in their rules – including fines ranging from $50 to $500 if people violate them, Greenbaum says.

Here are some of the highlights of the FDNY’s rules:

Charcoal. Charcoal barbecues are not legal on any balcony or roof. If a co-op or condo board allows a charcoal grill on a terrace or in a backyard, there must be a 10-foot clearance between the grill and the building, as well as immediate access to a fire extinguisher or a water supply.

Electric. If co-op or condo rules allow it, electric grills are legal on balconies, terraces, or roofs in residential buildings. The grill must be at least 10 feet from anything flammable, including building walls or furniture. Propane. Residents can use a propane tank on a roof if the tank holds 16.4 ounces or less.

Natural gas. These grills must be made specifically for residential use and installed by a licensed master plumber. It’s illegal to use any kind of grill on a fire escape.Things can be a little different in the outer boroughs. “At many garden apartment complexes,” Greenbaum says, “there are designated barbecue areas away from the buildings.”

Insurance is the final consideration. “Most companies that insure co-ops and condos would flat-out ban charcoal grills because of the risk of blowing embers starting a fire,” says Jason Schiciano, co-president of the Levitt-Fuirst insurance brokerage. “It’s prudent to have that as a house rule. If the insurance company inspects the building and finds charcoal grills, it could issue a written requirement that the board needs to remove the grills – or risk nonrenewal of the policy.” Some carriers, he adds, even object to gas grills if they’re permitted on balconies.

“We have seen lawsuits over barbecue smoke entering apartments,” says Michael Spain, vice president of the Brown & Brown insurance brokerage. “If you asked me as an insurance broker, I would say don’t allow it.”

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