New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Crain's New York Yang draws renewed attention to proposed sidewalk shed legislation by Natalie Sachmechi

Yang draws renewed attention to proposed sidewalk shed legislation

Upper East Side Councilman Ben Kallos has been proposing legislation since 2016 that would force building owners to make necessary repairs to facades within six months of an inspection before the city steps in.

In addition, building owners would have to dismantle safety sheds within seven days after the work is completed.The sheds are unsafe because they can kill people if they collapse, Kallos said.

In 2018 scaffolding fell outside a Starbucks in Brooklyn, injuring three people.

The sheds look terrible, Kallos said, and they hurt small businesses by obscuring storefronts.

“The only solution is for building owners to actually have to make repairs in days, not years, under legislation I've proposed,” said Kallos, a Democrat. In addition, he would require building owners to pay for twice-yearly scaffolding inspections if their sheds have been up for longer than one year. 

The Real Estate Board of New York and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration are against the bill. REBNY Senior Vice President Reggie Thomas said Kallos' proposed time frame is not as simple to implement as it sounds. 

“[REBNY and Kallos] are fully aligned on the goal that sidewalk sheds are safe and that they come down as soon as possible,” Thomas said. But it’s not practical to expect building owners to get everything done in three or even six months, he added. “The timeline in this bill of 180 days might have a backward consequence where building owners want to get the work done as quickly as humanly possible,” he said, which could lead to mistakes and more danger to city residents. 

More than that, a broken system leads to sheds staying put for so long, Thomas said. The city requires facades to be inspected every five years, which requires scaffolding to be put up, he explained, and if there is an issue, the building owner must then speak to engineers and architects, find the money to make repairs and find people to do the work. 

In some cases, building owners need access to a neighboring property to get the work done, which can take months or years of legal negotiations, Thomas said.

“Every property owner wants to get these down as soon as possible,” he said.

Melanie LaRocca, commissioner of the city Department of Buildings, recently ramped up facade safety requirements, announcing that her agency would issue more rigorous fines and safety inspections to keep the public safe and hold landlords accountable for the safety of their properties. 

Both Kallos and Thomas proposed using drones to inspect the outsides of buildings, which would eliminate the need for scaffolding during the initial inspection process and reduce the need for manpower. But the use of unmanned aerial drones is highly regulated in the city.

The biggest roadblock to getting his legislation passed is “politics and elected officials who lack the courage to fix something,” Kallos said, citing stonewalling from the de Blasio administration and even the Department of Buildings. 

“People are so afraid of the opposition and what people are going to say if something goes wrong, that it’s thwarting a lot of progress,” he said.

The Buildings Department declined to comment.

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