DOB Overhauls Sidewalk Construction Shed and Scaffolding Rules

The city wants to limit how long these eyesores stay up.



Sidewalk sheds are temporary structures built to protect people or property from falling debris during construction work. Currently, according to the DOB, there are approximately 9,000 active, permitted construction sheds spanning more than 2 million linear feet, or nearly 400 miles, about 3 percent of the city’s sidewalk space.

While the sheds are required for construction, facade inspections, and repairs, existing laws often enable property owners to leave the construction sheds up for a long time. In New York City, sidewalk sheds have an average age of nearly 500 days, but some stay up for several years. The long-lasting scaffolding outside of buildings are eyesores and prompt quality of life concerns. To address this, Mayor Adams and DOB Commissioner Jimmy Oddo recently unveiled “Get Sheds Down,” a new city program to remove sidewalk sheds and scaffolding more quickly while redesigning and reimagining them for public safety and aesthetics.

We’ll highlight how the current rules governing construction sheds have given property owners incentives to leave them up for long periods of time instead of completing critical façade work that’s often the reason the shed is up in the first place. We’ll also cover the strategies the plan intends to use to flip the incentives and have owners expedite façade repairs and remove sheds with expired permits from public sidewalks.

Local Law 11

Many of the sidewalk sheds erected in New York City were put there in connection with DOB’s Façade Inspection and Safety Program (FISP), also known as Local Law 11 of 1998. Under Local Law 11, owners of properties higher than six stories must have their facades inspected and repaired every five years. Owners are required to file a corresponding technical façade report with DOB. Buildings are then classified as “safe,” “safe with a repair and maintenance program,” or “unsafe.”

If a building has a problem or defect that threatens public safety and is designated unsafe, the owner must immediately install pedestrian protection such as a sidewalk shed until the defects or severe issues are properly addressed. But in many cases, when construction projects face delays or stalls, or the owners fail to complete the necessary repairs, the sidewalk sheds remain in place for months or years at a time.

In addition, under the current rules, it could be cheaper for the owner to keep sidewalk sheds in place than to perform pricy façade repairs. Owners can indefinitely delay needed building repairs and keep construction sheds on city sidewalks for years without incurring financial penalties from the city. Smaller buildings not subject to Local Law 11 can simply renew their shed permits every year and keep the structure in place forever. And taller buildings subject to Local Law 11 can file for repeated extensions, allowing them to extend the length of façade repairs and still avoid penalties.

New Financial Penalties

The Adams administration announced that it will work with Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine to advance legislation to establish new monthly fines for building owners with sidewalk sheds that are not directly related to new construction or demolition projects.

These fines would start 90 days after the shed is first permitted and would be issued every month following until the shed’s removal. The specific penalties would be assessed to the length of a shed at a given point in time, accounting for phased compliance and allowing for reduced monthly penalties as repair work progresses and sheds are removed piece by piece.

Penalties would be capped at $6,000 per month, and to encourage owners to complete repair work and expedite shed removals, penalties would be waived if property owners take the action necessary to remove the shed within an allotted time. One- and two-family homes, and buildings employing safety netting instead of traditional sheds, would be exempt from these new penalties.

The Adams administration is also working to impose additional financial penalties on building owners located in select business districts when they fail to meet key milestones on required façade repairs related to the Façade Inspection and Safety Program. The program will begin in Midtown Manhattan; Long Island City, Queens; Downtown Brooklyn; and Grand Concourse in the Bronx.

Expanding the Use of Safety Netting

DOB will post an official agency Buildings Bulletin with specific rules governing the use of safety containment netting as an approved form of pedestrian protection that can, in certain circumstances, be used in place of a traditional sidewalk shed. Façade safety netting is currently allowed in the city but rarely used, in part because of the absence of a standardized design that can be easily replicated. The bulletin will be posted this year and provide clarity to design professionals and building owners around how netting can comply with standard DOB specifications and provide adequate public protection.

The city says it will pilot the use of netting to partially replace a preexisting shed in front of Queens County Supreme Court. The permit for the shed at this site was first issued on April 21, 2017, and the shed has been in place for almost 2,500 days. All city agencies will also be required to explore the use of safety netting for construction projects on buildings owned by that agency or for projects sponsored by the agency.

Once the bulletin is posted, any city agency that owns a building or is sponsoring a construction project requiring pedestrian protection will be required to assess whether netting can be used. Only if netting is ruled out as a viable option will the agency be able to proceed with the implementation of a traditional shed.

New Shed Permitting Fees and Oversight

The Adams administration said it will work with the City Council to implement new fees for renewals of a sidewalk shed permit and fines for sheds that remain in place after a permit has expired. Also, DOB will move to reduce the duration of shed permits to 90 days at a time instead of 12 months. This will mean owners will have to renew more often throughout the year to keep sheds in place. And penalty waivers for expired shed permits will no longer be granted by the DOB.

Expand the Long Standing Shed Program

DOB will also expand its Long Standing Shed program. The program targets owners with sheds that have been up for more than five years and implements additional oversights to compel owners to complete the facade work. Targeted sheds receive more site visits from DOB inspectors and potential criminal court actions or litigation for owners who fail to comply with repair orders.

The program will expand to include sheds that have been in place for longer than three years, which will add over 500 sheds, doubling the number of properties in the oversight program. Properties in the Long Standing Shed program are also eligible for penalty waivers if work is completed and a shed is removed within an allotted time frame.

Low-Interest Loan Program

The Adams administration will also partner with Manhattan Borough President Levine to explore the creation of a low-interest loan program to provide financial support for struggling, small property owners who lack the financial resources to complete necessary façade repair work.

The program would be modeled after Mayor Adams’ Small Business Opportunity Fund, a $75 million fund administered by the NYC Department of Small Business Services that offers loans to eligible small businesses, with a focus on minority- and women-owned businesses and businesses in low- to moderate-income communities.

Reevaluating LL 11 Inspections

DOB will conduct a study to review the frequency of inspections required by Local Law 11 and the FISP. DOB will determine whether it can use less frequent and/or onerous inspections without jeopardizing pedestrian safety.

Currently, we are in Cycle 9 of the FISP’s five-year cycle period. The current inspection cycle ends in 2025, and DOB may implement new inspection rules by the next cycle.

Redesigning Sidewalk Sheds

According to the announcement, DOB will request proposals for new design ideas from architecture and engineering experts on how to modernize the sidewalk shed and how alternative materials, netting, or designs can be less obtrusive and still affordable. Selected designs will be incorporated into the Construction Code. DOB plans to have these designs implemented by the end of 2024.

While this process occurs, the administration plans to make aesthetic improvements to existing plywood and pipe sidewalk sheds. Aesthetic enhancements will require increased lighting under existing sheds, allow art to be installed on shed panels, and unlock more color choices for sheds beyond the hunter green color currently mandated under the city’s Construction Code.

New Rules Open Door for Use of Drones During Façade Inspections

New York City recently adopted rules to make unmanned aircrafts legal. This paves the way for more widespread use of drones in building facade inspections. Drone technology could greatly improve the speed and efficiency of conducting façade inspections. According to a 2020 DOB report on using drones to conduct façade inspections, drones and accompanying technologies can offer a Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector (QEWI) an enhanced visual inspection.

A façade inspection includes a visual inspection and a close-up inspection. The visual inspection is traditionally conducted with binoculars and cameras from the street level and any other accessible vantage points, such as the roofs of neighboring buildings. The report says that if QEWIs had access to a rotary wing drone, the maneuverability alone would provide them with enhanced vantage points, which would allow them to easily view windowsills from above and to navigate around objects that may obstruct their views, such as balconies or mechanical equipment. The report concludes, however, that drones can’t fulfill all FISP requirements and replace professionals. For example, FISP requires certain examinations at least every 60 feet, including “sounding” or tapping the facade to hear for any voids behind it.

Under the new drone rules, individuals and entities will be required to apply for a permit to legally take off or land a drone or any other kind of unmanned aircraft in New York City. The permitting process will be administered by the NYPD. The permits will include a site temporarily designated as a take-off or landing site by the DOT. Applicants will also be required to comply with all applicable federal, state, and local regulations, and to have obtained authorization to operate their devices from the Federal Aviation Administration.