Fire Escapes and Local Law 11

Local Law 11 mandates inspections for the facades of buildings 7 stories or higher every 5 years to ensure the safety of pedestrians below.  Although fire escapes are included in this inspection, many building owners overlook them and then get slapped with violations for easily fixable problems.  Don’t let that be you!

One of the most common violations people receive for fire escapes is clutter.  Many people use their fire escape almost like a balcony, using the space for plants, laundry, air conditioners, and other personal belongings.  However, in the event something falls from the fire escape, it could hit a pedestrian.  What’s more, your things also present a hazard to you.  Fire escapes are meant to, well, escape from fires–and tripping over flower pots to desperately escape a blazing fire is a bit of a safety hazard, to put it mildly.

Fire escapes also get cited for being in poor repair.  One of the downsides of fire escapes as compared to other means of egress is that they require constant vigilance.  Steel and wrought iron, the two most common fire escape materials, last a long time if properly cared for, but they’ll begin to rust if left neglected.  Once rust sets in, the metals become brittle, and the fire escape may become cracked, flake, or even break apart.  This presenting a hazard not only to people who use the fire escape but to pedestrians below.

Thankfully, it’s not usually hard to bring your fire escape up to code if it’s fallen into disrepair.  The earlier you intervene, the less work there is to do–possibly as minor as redoing the paint.  Unless more than ten square feet or four lines of masonry is being replaced, the fire escape work counts as “minor repairs” and doesn’t require permit from the Department of Buildings.  Landmarked buildings, however, always need a permit from the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

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