Sidewalks in New York can be property owners responsibility

A common misconception in New York is that the City is responsible for maintaining the sidewalks in good condition. However, the law is not so clear cut on the issue. It is true that in the past, the City was responsible for the streets as well as the sidewalks. But that law has changed over the years. Although the City is still responsible for maintaining the streets in good repair, property owners in New York need to be aware of their legal obligations with regard to the sidewalk abutting their premises.

According to the New York City Administrative Code, the owner of real property abutting a sidewalk, and not the City, has the duty to "maintain such sidewalk in a reasonably safe condition" and is liable for injuries arising from his failure to do so.

So business owners who own property in the City must keep their portion of the sidewalk free of defects and anything that might be a hazard to the public (for example, potholes, cracks, etc). If a pedestrian walking on the sidewalk trips and falls on a defect which is located on “your” part of the sidewalk, then the property owner could be held liable for any injuries sustained by the pedestrian.

There are exceptions to this general rule. Things such as sidewalk tree wells, sign posts and fire hydrants remain within the domain of the City. It is the City that is responsible for their installation, maintenance and removal (should the need arise). Therefore, if there is a defect at the edge of a tree well that the property owner did not actively create, then the City would arguably be responsible for repairing that defect.

Of course, these types of cases are often litigated because there could be a dispute, for example, over whether a defect is technically part of the base of a fire hydrant (and therefore the City’s responsibility) or part of the sidewalk itself (and therefore the property owner’s responsibility). Such questions often have to be resolved in Court.

Every property owner in New York City should carefully consult with their insurance company about the necessary measures they need to take to ensure that they protect themselves from potential liability. Likewise, the public should be aware that if they are injured as a result of a defect on a sidewalk, they may have a valid cause of action against the property owner (and perhaps the City depending on the circumstances of their accident).

Lastly, one other important exception to the sidewalk rule is for sidewalks abutting one, two, or three-family residences which are used exclusively for residential purposes. The City of New York is still liable for personal injuries caused by the failure to maintain these sidewalks in a reasonably safe condition.

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