City to stop issuing fines to homeowners for damage caused by street trees

Courtesy of Mayor's office

Queens has more than a quarter of a million trees, more than the Bronx and Manhattan combined, so many of the borough’s elected officials applauded a change of policy by the city which will stop issuing violations to homeowners caused by street trees.

The city will also ramp up sidewalk repairs under the Trees & Sidewalks program to address 5,500 priority sites over the next five years.

“We’re not just fixing broken sidewalks, we’re fixing a broken system,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “We tripled funding for tree-related sidewalk repair, but homeowners were still on the hook for problems they didn’t create. As a homeowner, I know how frustrating that is. Now, if a tree causes damage, we’re taking care of it.”

The city will stop imposing liens on one, two and three family properties that have sidewalk damage caused solely by city trees and the Department of Transportation and the Parks Department will inspect for dangerous sidewalk conditions, but the city, not the homeowners, will be responsible for fixing them if they are exclusively tree-related.

“Street trees are an important part of our urban landscape but have caused homeowners many headaches over the years due to sidewalk damage,” Assemblyman David Weprin said. “Ending the imposition of liens and violations to homeowners for damage caused by city trees is a commonsense policy that will improve the quality of life for many people in our district and across the entire city.”

DOT will review the 50,000 existing notices of violations to determine which were caused exclusively by street trees and cancel the lien for any that meets the criteria. If the homeowner of the qualifying property is selling of refinancing their home, the city will expedite this re-evaluation.

“For nearly six years my office has fielded relentless complaints about liens placed on homes because of a sidewalk cracked by city tree roots,” Councilman Costa Constantinides said. “I’m glad to see today that a bad status quo is changing and the government is taking ownership where it should have been all along. It’s encouraging to see this also means a review of the 50,000 existing violations to determine whether the burden should be on the city.”

To meet increased need, the Parks Department has worked to build capacity and attract more contractors by increasing their solicitation outreach; offering varied contract sizes; minimizing contract requirements to the extent possible; and improving site densities.

“I am pleased to hear the city will make these important changes to its sidewalk violations system, which for too long posed real quality of life and financial concerns for homeowners in northeast Queens dealing with sidewalk damage caused by a city tree,” Councilman Paul Vallone said. “Shifting the liability for street tree-related damage away from homeowners and back to the city will bring long overdue relief to impacted homeowners throughout the entire city of New York.”

Councilman Donovan Richards thanked the mayor for finally righting a wrong and forgiving any liens that occurred to no fault of the homeowner.

“Homeowners across New York City deal with far too many burdens outside of their control, which is why putting an end to violations caused by trees is such a big win for many New Yorkers who have been saddled with unfair fines,” Richards said. “Everyone deserves trees in the neighborhood, but they shouldn’t be the ones handed the bill when city-planted roots destroy city property.”

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