The city Buildings Department is installing emergency protective sidewalk sheds in front of dozens of Big Apple structures with crumbling facades — and slapping their property owners with the bill.
The drastic move comes after last month’s death of Manhattan architect Erica Tishman, who was killed by a chunk of falling facade in Midtown. The tragedy prompted a citywide review of more than 1,330 properties with a history of unsafe exterior walls.
Inspectors ended up writing new violations for 220 of the buildings and ordered their owners to install protective sheds to shield unsuspecting pedestrians — but only 68 of the sites complied.
The remaining 152 buildings were hit with emergency declarations Jan. 3, which means the city is hiring contractors to install sheds in front of them and then billing the owners for the cost, Buildings Commissioner Melanie La Rocca said Monday at a hearing of the City Council’s Housing and Buildings Committee.
Buildings officials said some of the delinquent site owners have since complied with the Jan. 3 order, but they did not immediately have a number.
“We are again removing the excuses and ensuring that owners do the work that they are legally required to do,” La Rocca told the committee. “These actions will hold owners accountable for both maintaining their facades and keeping pedestrians safe.”
Ironically, her comments came during a public hearing on a proposed law that would actually reduce the use of scaffolding in places where it’s not needed for repairs or public safety.
Scaffolding is used at times for city inspections of the higher floors outside buildings. And because city law requires buildings above six stories to have facade inspections every five years, some landlords cut corners by keeping the scaffolding up indefinitely.
The council proposal would OK the use of drones to conduct the mandatory facade inspections from the air, eliminating the need for scaffolding to carry them out.
La Rocca said there are more than 9,500 sidewalk sheds up in the city and that they have remained in place for an average of 300 days.
Some officials said that’s too long.
“New York City has 344 miles of sidewalk sheds,” City Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) said. “That’s enough to stretch from City Hall to Canada. We need to study using drone technology and innovative solutions to get sidewalk sheds down while keeping New Yorkers safe.”
One hurdle facing the proposed drone-inspection measure is a 1948 city law, initially intended for airplanes and helicopters, that would prohibit the use of drones within the city.