A ubiquitous part of the New York City cityscape, fire escapes are used for all sorts of things: as balconies, mini gardens, hanging clothes to dry, and, occasionally, escaping from fires. Although New Yorkers in older apartment buildings enjoy making the most of the fire escapes, there are some things fire escapes should not be used for. 

Find out all about it, especially if you’re looking at New York apartments for rent in buildings with external fire escapes.

NYC Fire Escapes: A Short History

Fire escapes began to appear on buildings in NYC in the 1860s, after numerous fatal fires in tenements. The city made building codes even more strict after the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, requiring fire escapes to be made of wrought iron and to be attached securely to buildings.

The 1968 Building Code means that you’ll seldom see external fire escapes on new buildings with apartments for rent in Manhattan and other boroughs. In terms of that code, buildings must have internal stairwells and sprinkler systems, and/or a fire alarm. Buildings that still have traditional fire escapes must comply with the Department of Buildings’ regulations.

If you’re moving into a Manhattan apartment for rent that has an old-fashioned fire escape, check your lease to see if it includes what you can and cannot do on your fire escape. With that short history lesson out of the way, let’s take a look at what NOT to use your NYC fire escape for.

Don’t Use Your Fire Escape As A Balcony

Given that so few New York apartments for rent come with private outdoor space, many residents use their fire escape as an informal balcony. While this isn’t illegal, you really should think twice about standing, sitting, or growing plants on it. 

For starters, the FDNY’s residential safety guide says that your fire escape should be kept free from obstructions at all times – and, yes, “obstructions” includes you enjoying a cool breeze. Plus, accidents happen. In July 2020, an Upper West Side man went onto his fire escape to smoke a cigarette and fell to his death.

Don’t Store Stuff On Your Fire Escape

New York City apartments aren’t exactly known for offering a huge amount of storage space. Some folks deal with that by using their fire escape as a storage closet. If you’re looking for somewhere to store your bicycle when not in use, don’t choose your fire escape.

According to the DOB, it’s illegal to block fire escapes with objects of any sort. It’s also illegal to cover the platform outside your access window. If your neighbor is storing stuff on their fire escape, or they’ve surrounded the platform with wire mesh to give their cats a safe spot outside, call 311, as this is a safety risk.

Don’t Block Your Fire Escape With An AC Unit

Air conditioners are a boon in New York’s hot and humid summers. If you’re looking at a condo for sale in NYC that doesn’t come with an AC, you’re probably thinking about where you can install one. Whatever you do, don’t place it in your fire escape window or other exits, as that’s illegal according to DOB regulations. 

If you’re looking at an AC-less Manhattan apartment for rent, check the lease regarding the placement of AC units, as it might stipulate the unit cannot block other exits. If that’s the case, choose a portable air conditioner.

As handy as fire escapes can be when you need a breath of fresh air or a spot to do some container gardening, they’re important safety features. Treat them accordingly, as they might just save your life.

If you’re looking to swap your fire escape for a property with proper outdoor space, message Platinum Properties to start your property search.