DOT sidewalk inspection scam?

My doorbell rang this afternoon. It was my cheerful postman, Kevin, and he had a certified letter for me. Certified letters are almost always buzzkillers. I could see from the envelope that this one was from the NYC Dept of Transportation so I knew it wasn’t congratulations from Publishers Clearinghouse.

Kevin said that every house on the block, except one, got certified letters from DOT. What the hell, I’ve got nothing to be concerned about My sidewalk and curb are in excellent condition. I signed for the letter and opened it up.

Inside was a Notice of Violation that my sidewalk had been inspected and was found to have a “trip hazard”. The notice said that I needed to replace ten square feet of sidewalk. There was a graphic indicating this general section of my sidewalk.

In NYC — and I presume that this is the case in most large cities — the building owner is responsible for the condition of his sidewalk. If a sidewalk falls out of repair it’s the homeowner’s job to repair it, just as it’s his job to keep it clean and clear of snow.

However, enforcement has typically been limited to third party complaints, not proactive inspections. I’m told the city is named in tens thousands of predatory civil suits every year related to substandard sidewalks, some of them pretty funny… like the guy who tried to sue my neighbor for “loss of marital congress” after he allegedly tripped on a crack on the sidewalk and broke his pinkie finger. I swear I’m not making this up.

Last year around this time, a non-DOT crew, which I presumed to be an independent contractor, was tearing up and replacing sidewalks all over the neighborhood. It was the same sort of thing: an anonymous inspector had run around the neighborhood tagging damaged sidewalks for repair.

Certified letters were sent to homeowners with vague indications of the nature of the violation. They were given 45 days to either apply for a permit and get the job done by a licensed contractor or the city would do the job @ $9+ square foot and bill the homeowner.

The thing is, I walked those sidewalks several times a day. While a few of them did have some issues with tree roots, most of the sidewalks that were replaced I remember as being in fine shape. At least, I never saw an issue with them. The entire process struck me at the time as being somewhat arbitrary, which is to say fishy. And now here we are again.

Can anyone spot this “trip hazard”? Bear in mind that my sidewalk is everything below where that stoop starts at the left side of the photo. The questionable piece of sidewalk is on the lower right, immediately adjacent to the white painted curb cut up to the first vertical seam. Here, let’s zoom in on that section of sidewalk and see if we can spot that dangerous “trip hazard”…

What I see is a somewhat ragged sidewalk seam with a small piece of concrete that’s not loose or in danger of falling out any time soon. Whatever, that’s not the noted violation anyway. If it was it would have been tagged with Defect Code #1: “broken”. Instead it indicates a Defect Code #3: “trip hazard”.

Is it the little protruding weed, left-center?

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    Welcome to Brooklyn Row House

    This blog is about the challenges of renovating an old (1903) Brooklyn, New York row house.

    My last major renovation project was the master bedroom, most of which is about finish carpentry. You’ll find other completed home improvement projects in the Projects submenu at the top of this page.

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