Sidewalks are Our Responsibility in Nyack, New York.

A famous former New York City mayor prosecuted “quality of life” crimes to “clean up the streets,” but what if that enforcement mentality came to the streets and sidewalks of Nyack. This month, a local resident saw my article in the Nyack Villager, and asked,

My problem is with property owners that are allowed to grow their hedges and shrubberies well over the edge of the sidewalks. I have found the worst violators are along . . . . . Up to a foot of sidewalk is lost in places because vegetation has grown without proper maintenance. In places, two people who want to walk abreast have to go into single file…or worse, one has to walk in the street. At this point, it is more than just an annoyance, it is a safety issue. . . . .[Name withheld by me].

As someone who commutes by foot, I understand the blight of overgrown hedges, cracked and damaged sidewalks, and icy patches near down spouts pouring onto the sidewalk. What are the rules that govern our sidewalks, and whose responsibility is it to fix the problem? It turns out that the Village of Nyack has very strong sidewalk laws designed to make them clean and safe– the question is whether we as a community are going to enforce those laws.

Let’s start with Village Code § 48-11 (Sidewalks and curbs; curb cuts), which shifts the onus to the landowner, as follows: The maintenance, repair and reconstruction of sidewalks and curbs, including all necessary supports and retaining walls, shall be the responsibility and obligation of the abutting landowners and shall be performed at their sole expense to specifications approved by the Building Inspector. Said owner or occupant shall be liable for any injuries or damage caused by reason of omission, failure or negligence to maintain or repair said sidewalks and curbs, or to keep them free from obstructions. [Amended 12-9-2004 by L.L. No. 10-2004].

If the Building Inspector determines that repairs are necessary, (s)he may issue a Notice of Repair. If the abutting owner fails to cure the problem within sixty (60) days, the Village may repair, adding a ten percent “assessment.” If the assessment is not paid after the Village repairs the sidewalk, it becomes a lien against the property. The Village also has the statutory authority to declare an owner who repeatedly fails to repair or maintain the sidewalk a “disorderly person,” subject to a daily fine of up to $250 per day, and prosecution. Now that’s a powerful law.

When it comes to other annoyances, like litter, the Village Code § 29-3 stipulates that, “Every owner, lessee, tenant, occupant or person in charge of any building or premises shall keep and cause to be kept the sidewalk, flagging and curbstone abutting said building or premises free from obstruction and nuisances of every kind and shall keep said sidewalks, public parking lots, air shafts, areaways, backyards, courts and alleys free from garbage, refuse, rubbish, litter, goods, wares, merchandise or other material.” The same goes for the removal of snow, which under Section 48-10, provides that, “each person shall, by 11:00 a.m., remove the snow and ice from the sidewalks and gutters in front of the premises owned or occupied by him or her.” Fines and prosecution can follow the failure to clear the sidewalks.

Turning to the question of the reader– trees– it turns out that the Village Board is charged with enforcing the trimming of trees, which may or may not include “shrubs” and “bushes.” Village Code § 48-18, provides, “Any tree or trees standing on or along the line of any street, whether upon private property or in the street, shall be kept trimmed by the owner of the property upon which, or in front of whose property it stands, in such a manner as to prevent the limbs or branches thereof from obstructing the sidewalks or street for public use and travel, and all trees and branches overhanging the street or sidewalk that are dead or decayed, or in danger of falling on, or interfering with any light, fixture or other structure, lawfully in and upon said street or along said sidewalk, shall be removed by the owner of the property upon which, or in front of whose property it stands, under a penalty of $100, and in addition thereto, a violation of this section shall constitute disorderly conduct, and the person violating the same shall be deemed a disorderly person.”

The Bottom Line– while the Village of Nyack, New York has powerful and effective tools to “enforce” these quality of sidewalk issues, it is incumbent upon us all to understand that we, as residents, owe it to our neighbors to keep the sidewalk clear of trees, bushes, litter, potholes, snow and ice. We owe it to ourselves to remind our friends (in a neighborly way) to make our community a better place, and not wait for the Village, because it’s not really its legal responsibility. Despite this, the elected officials regularly apply for grants to help improve the sidewalks, and let’s hope they don’t decide to “enforce” these laws to vigorously.