How to Make Tenants Remove Obstructions from Fire Exits and Hallways
Tenants sometimes obstruct fire exits, including fire escapes, with a variety of items. Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) inspectors and the fire department routinely find such things as flowerpots, mops, buckets, brooms, and bicycles on fire escapes. These items could prevent escape from an apartment if there's a fire. Tenants also block public hallways with such items as bicycles or baby carriages. Such obstructions could prevent tenants from quickly exiting the building.
These tenant-caused obstructions can lead to your getting hit with a violation. This makes it important for you to tell your tenants about an unacceptable obstruction right away—and get them to remove it. If an item is blocking access to the fire escape or preventing other tenants from using it, you'll be cited for Violation #539, which requires removal of a “fire escape encumbrance.” If the item is blocking a public hallway, you'll be cited for Violation #538, which requires removal of the encumbrance blocking a public hallway.
HPD classifies these as Class B violations. An owner has 30 days to correct a B violation and two weeks to certify the correction to remove the violation or be hit with fines.
Law Bars Fire Exit and Hallway Obstructions
The law is on your side. Section 27-2007(c) of the New York City Administrative Code says that a tenant can't “place any encumbrance before or upon, or cause access to be obstructed to, any fire escape, or obstruct by a baby carriage or any encumbrance, the public halls or any required means of egress.”
In addition, Section 27-2009(2) gives you the right to evict a tenant who violates the administrative code by “repeated or continued conduct which causes damage to the dwelling unit or substantially interferes with the comfort or safety of another person.” By obstructing hallways or fire exits, the tenant is interfering with the safety of other tenants, says attorney Niles Welikson.
Take Three Steps to Get Tenant to Remove Obstruction
Before you spend time and money on an eviction lawsuit, you should attempt to get the tenant to voluntarily remove the obstruction.
Step #1: Check lease. If a tenant is obstructing a fire exit or public hallway, check the lease. The tenant may be violating two common lease clauses, says Welikson. One clause in most residential leases requires the tenant to comply with all city, state, and federal laws and regulations. A tenant who obstructs a fire exit or the public hallway is violating the city's laws and therefore the lease clause.
Another common lease clause requires the tenant to comply with a list of rules specified in the lease. And in many standardized leases, one of these rules typically bars the tenant from placing things on the fire escapes or in the hallways. One rule might say that “Nothing may be placed on or attached to fire escapes, sills, windows, or exterior walls of the Apartment or in the hallways or public areas” or “Tenants shall not block or leave anything in or on fire escapes, the sidewalks, entrances, driveways, elevators, stairways, or halls.” A tenant who obstructs the fire exits or hallways isn't complying with the owner's rules and so is violating the lease clause.
Step #2: Give oral warning. Ask the tenant to remove the object obstructing the public hallway or fire exit. Inform the tenant that he's violating his lease and a city law.
Step #3: Send letter. If, despite your oral warning, the tenant hasn't removed the obstruction, send him a polite but firm letter. Again, tell the tenant he's violating his lease and a city law. And tell the tenant to remove the obstruction immediately.
Your letter, like our Model Letter: Require Tenant to Remove Obstructions, should:
Tell the tenant that he's violating his lease;
Point out the specific lease clauses the tenant is violating;
Tell the tenant that he's violating a city law;
Point out the specific law the tenant is violating;
State that the tenant is creating a fire hazard; and
Make it clear to the tenant that if he doesn't remove the obstruction by a set deadline, he risks being the target of an eviction lawsuit.
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