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That Flowerpot on the Fire Escape Could Be a Killer

Morningside Heights, Manhattan

Illegal Flowerpots
Oct. 24, 2017

Ah, the perils and pitfalls of cooperative living. A shareholder in a co-op in Morningside Heights possesses a green thumb, evidenced by the flourishing potted plants on his window ledges and fire escape. When he waters his plants, alas, the runoff streams down the wall, across windows, and into the apartment of his downstairs neighbor. This aggrieved neighbor spoke to the man with the green thumb, and he wrote letters to the managing agent and co-op board, but the water keeps coming. Is this right, or fair? 

“No one should be using a fire escape for the storage or placement of any items, including plantings,” attorney Mark Hakim of Chaves & Perlowitz tells the Ask Real Estate column in the New York Times. “It is a matter of health and safety.” 

It’s also against the co-op’s house rules, and it violates city and state laws governing fire safety, which state that all means of egress, such as stairwells and fire escapes, must be kept free of obstructions. As for the flowerpots on the window ledge, if one of them should fall, it could injure or kill a passerby, which is why the co-op’s house rules forbid flowerpots on window ledges. 

So what’s the aggrieved shareholder to do? Write another letter to the board and to the managing agent, advises Hakim, demanding that the board “take this matter seriously.” The shareholder might also call 311 to report the blocked fire escape. If a city inspector finds a fire hazard, the building would likely be issued a violation. In such situations, shareholders should press the board to act before the building gets fined, which will cost all shareholders. However, a ticket would certainly get management’s attention. Then again, so would a dead body on the sidewalk in front of the building, sprawled next to a shattered flowerpot and a lovely but deadly geranium.

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