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New Yorkers battle scaffolding hazards by the mile

New York City is famous for landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. It's also famous for its scaffolding, which has gradually become a distinctive feature of the city -- so much so that residents have become used to looking at the more than 7,700 individual structures alongside commercial and residential buildings alike.

Measured end to end, New York City has 280 miles of wood and steel-framed structures dotting its landscape. The scaffolding has become so permanent that at least one has stood in place for a solid 11 years and the Buildings Department has taken the unusual step of issuing a map that is designed to help people route their commute by foot, bike or vehicle around the structures.

Some of the scaffolding has been up for more than a decade, and nobody seems to know if they're still needed or if they're ever coming down. Originally, they started appearing in order for inspectors to do a better job of determining which older buildings needed some work -- largely in response to a law passed after a college student was killed by a piece of falling terra cotta. However, the law failed to set a deadline for repairs -- creating a loophole that allows building owners to leave them in place for undetermined periods of time whether the work has stalled or not.

In some cases, the scaffolding itself is starting to age and become a danger. In other cases, the scaffolding just acts as a handy canopy for vagrants, criminals and litterers.

For example, residents of one Manhattan apartment building saw scaffolding go up six years ago, supposedly as a temporary measure to keep people from being injured by falling bricks. Residents complain no visible work is being done and, in the meantime, the scaffolding has become a shelter for patrons of a nearby bar who gather to smoke, polluting the air and the ground with their cigarettes.

In many cases, landlords don't have the money needed to make repairs, so they put the scaffolding up instead.

If you're injured due to poorly maintained scaffolding that is either itself a danger or attracting dangerous elements, you may be able to sue the property owner. Owners have a duty to keep their premises safe for patrons of their establishment.

Source: The New York Times, "New York Has 280 Miles of Scaffolding, and a Map to Navigate It," Winnie Hu, May 02, 2017

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