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Barbecuing 101: To Ban or Not to Ban?

Rose Horowitz in Building Operations on May 9, 2019

New York City

Barbecuing 101
May 9, 2019

Summer’s almost here, and co-op and condo boards are about to get reminded that there’s nothing simple about a simple summer barbecue. In regulating or banning barbecuing, boards need to consider the Fire Department of New York’s (FDNY) stringent regulations, inconvenience to neighbors from smoke and noise and smells, 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. “Our managers always inspect terraces for myriad things, including barbecues. We ask our supers to be super-vigilant.” 

And some boards have put sharp teeth in their rules – including fines ranging from $50 to $500 if people violate the buildings’ rules on barbecuing, Greenbaum says. 

Here’s the link to the FDNY’s barbecuing rules. And here are some of the highlights: 

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. FDNY rules allow residents to use a propane tank that’s smaller than 16.4 ounces on a roof. 

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. 

Fred Rudd, president of Rudd Realty, manages two Manhattan buildings where the boards have allowed penthouse owners to install gas barbecue lines to their balconies. The lines had to be installed in accordance with fire department regulations and filed with the Department of Buildings. In addition, these owners had to purchase private insurance policies, Rudd says. 

Some newer buildings have installed barbecues on non-flammable surfaces as part of a public roof deck, Rudd adds. “You want people to have fun and enjoy being able to barbecue, but you want them to do it in a safe area. Most people who live in [Manhattan] know they can’t do it.” 

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.” 

“As a lawyer, I would not recommend [allowing residents to barbecue],” says attorney Robert Tierman, a partner at Litwin & Tierman. “You have to inspect them on a regular basis, and that’s a whole other can of worms.” 

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 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, they could issue a written requirement that the board needs to remove the grills – or risk non-renewal 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, executive vice president of Brown & Brown insurance brokerage. “If I was a co-op or condo board, I would dot my i’s and cross my t’s if I was thinking about allowing barbecuing. If you asked me as an insurance broker, I would say don’t allow it.”

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