If a tree root uplifts the sidewalk in the middle of a New York City forest, whose responsibility is it to fix it?
The city, but the Department of Transportation would try to hoodwink property owners into paying for it.
That’s what Assemblyman Dov Hikind (Boro Park) alleged yesterday after visiting homeowners who find DOT notice of violations distributed by their door for damaged sidewalks caused by tree roots. Hikind wants the DOT to be more transparent and clearly state what damages the homeowner is responsible for.
Hikind said his office has received numerous calls from residents who received a notice of violation after their property had been inspected and the sidewalk was found to have defects, including broken flags, trip hazards, freestanding or an improper slope. In the conjunction with the violation notice, DOT also issues an accompanying Inspection Report diagram informing property owners which of the flags are defective – a sidewalk flag marked with an “X” is identified as ‘non-assessable.’”
“Just imagine you get home from work one day and you see a DOT violation notice in your mailbox,” said Hikind. “Not only is the language and diagram very difficult to understand, but homeowners are left unaware as to what they’re responsible for. Because of that, you have hundreds of homeowners who unnecessarily spent millions of dollars repairing damaged sidewalks that they weren’t even responsible for.”
Hikind said due to a City law stating property owners are responsible for the maintenance of the sidewalks adjacent to their properties, homeowners may feel the need to fix the damaged sidewalks themselves. However, his office confirmed with Parks Department officials that homeowners are not financially responsible for sidewalk flags that are identified as “non-assessable.”
Hikind said the DOT notices include legal jargon stating that under Section 2904 of the New York City Charter and Section 190-152 of the New York City Administrative Code, “require property owners to maintain the sidewalk adjacent to their property” and is “responsible for repairing all defects.”
The notice goes on to state that the homeowner is required to take out a permit and begin the work within 45 days. Should the homeowner not complete repairs, the city may opt to hire private construction firms to make the necessary repairs and bill the homeowner,” said Hikind.
“The notice clearly puts the responsibility of maintenance and repairs solely upon the homeowner,” Hikind said in a letter to NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. “The notices are very misleading.”
“In the era of transparency, a notice of violation must clearly state that damaged sidewalk flags caused by tree roots are not the financial responsibility of the homeowner and they will not be charged. Due to the ambiguity of the violations, many homeowners, instead, elect to reach into their own pockets to cover the cost of repairs. I urge the Department to revise the Notice of Violation and clearly explain in an easily understood fashion which flags are the financial responsibility of the homeowner,” he added.
The DOT response will be posted in an updated version of this story.