What makes a man start fires.
November 29, 2010 5:21 AM   Subscribe

Our downstairs neighbors have made a makeshift firepit in the backyard of our New York City apartment building. This seems like it must be incredibly illegal. But is it?

We live on the third floor of a four-story apartment building. The folks in the ground floor apartment have a backyard which is mostly cement tiles and a patch of grass that's maybe 10x10, which is about 10-15 feet from the apartment.

The other day I noticed that they had built themselves a little fire pit in the center of the grassy patch out of some unused cement tiles that the landlord left in the backyard. The reason I noticed is because they left it burning unattended one night, which doesn't really instill confidence when it comes to their fire safety comprehension.

I don't like it. It seems unsafe, and I've not gotten the most competent vibe from these people. I am nervous having a relatively uncontained fire that close to our house.

Here are my questions:

1.) Is this illegal?
2.) If this is illegal, should I:

a. Go directly to the tenant and ask them to stop having these fires? (my limited prior experience with this tenant makes me think that this will engender enmity rather than create understanding and respect between us)

b. Call 311 to complain?

c. Call the landlord?
posted by orville sash to Law & Government (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Regardless of whether it's illegal (I expect it is), it sounds unsafe. Call the landlord and 311 immediately. If it happens again, call the fire department.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:24 AM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

From the NYC Fire Code FAQ:

Portable outdoor fire pits that burn wood or other solid fuel (such as manufactured firelogs) are regulated by the Fire Code as an open fire. The Fire Code (FC307.1) prohibits open fires, with a few exceptions, because of the fire hazards they present. The main exception allows barbecues that burn charcoal, propane or piped natural gas to be used on residential property.

posted by inturnaround at 5:27 AM on November 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

I would suggest not going through the landlord. You don't know who his buddies or relatives are, and you don't know he won't drop you name by accident. 311 or FDNY is your best bet here; just make sure you only call FDNY if the thing is still on.
posted by griphus at 5:39 AM on November 29, 2010

If they are burning Charcoal in the Firepit then isn't it within those guidelines posted? I'd expect its fine.
posted by mary8nne at 5:43 AM on November 29, 2010

Except for the whole leaving it burning unattended thing. I wouldn't even leave a fire unattended to take a piss.

Forget the legality of it. Safety is the issue here. If they leave it alone wait 10 minutes or so and call the fire department. Preferably not the emergency number since it's still in the pit. Obviously the timing gets adjusted by the size of the fire, how dangerous you think it is (since you can see it and I can't), and how often they leave it alone.

In all actuality, it might not be a bad idea to talk with someone at the fire department anyway just about fire pit regulations. I have a feeling that someone who would leave a fire unattended wouldn't exactly be making the most well made fire pit.
posted by theichibun at 5:50 AM on November 29, 2010

The very next time the fire pit is unattended for even a second call the FDNY. Tell them there's a fire in your backyard and you're concerned about it spreading to the building. They'll be there in 3 minutes and your neighbors will be in deep shit. Never admit that you were the one who called.

Guess why we have fire codes? Because death by fire is a real and serious threat in an urban environment. The FDNY has the authority to crack some heads and will absolutely be interested.
posted by 2bucksplus at 6:01 AM on November 29, 2010 [8 favorites]

I was gung-ho about building a fire pit when I moved into my backyard-ed Brooklyn apartment, and it seemed like the two main rules were:
  • Most everything is at least ambiguously illegal
  • Whether you as the fire-owner will be shut down is up to the whims of whoever shows up to enforce the rules
Worst case scenario you have to call 311 twice, and then the annoyed fire department will figure out a reason to make them stop.
posted by soma lkzx at 6:05 AM on November 29, 2010

My understanding is that the fire just needs to be contained (don't know about that cite from the FAQ, though). We've had the FDNY stop by to check on our outdoor fire (in a chiminea; more recently, we've used a copper fire bowl), and they just said "have a good night." This is in Queens, though; enforcement may vary in different locations.
posted by torticat at 6:13 AM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

An actual firepit or charcoal grill would be safer. You could probably hustle up a free one on Craigslist or freecycle.
posted by theora55 at 8:05 AM on November 29, 2010

I would advise you against talking to the tenant. It could cause serious issues. I would also advise against talking to the landlord, because they may choose not to do anything.

The best thing to do is to call the fire department. Get them to force the landlord to act.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:25 AM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

As I understand it, it's okay to have wood or charcoal burning in an actual grill or brazier or chimnea or whatever.

Just digging a hole in the ground and rolling your own would not be OK. Call the fire department, for Heaven's sake.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:20 AM on November 29, 2010

An actual firepit or charcoal grill would be safer. You could probably hustle up a free one on Craigslist or freecycle.

Why should the OP have to "hustle up" something for his neighbors? They can get their own firepit after the fire department shuts this nonsense down.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:21 AM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would advise you against talking to the tenant. It could cause serious issues.


No, seriously. This is New York, and everybody knows how to get along with other people, simply because the city's taught them how to. Be an adult, engage with them on a friendly, cordial, but direct manner, instead of complaining to some other organization that you'll expect will solve all your problems.

Go over and knock on your neighbors' door, say a friendly hello and ask them about the fire pit. Tell them that you're really not comfortable with a fire unless it's actually in a real firepit, and unless they don't leave it unattended.

If they give you attitude, then shrug and say it's for everyone's benefit and safety, and talk to the landlord, and then to 311/the fire department.
posted by suedehead at 11:44 AM on November 29, 2010

A voice of reason and sanity - thanks suedehead.

For heaven's sake, talk to the neighbors before calling the Marines.
posted by GeeEmm at 2:21 PM on November 29, 2010

This is New York, and everybody knows how to get along with other people, simply because the city's taught them how to.


Call 311. The organization exists to help solve your problems, and landlords will not reliably take pains to keep your confidence. If your neighbors are the sort who will get upset at an official shutting down the party, they'll get upset at you asking them nicely. If you've ever had to deal with inconsiderate neighbors, you know what a cheap rationalization "I wouldn't have been upset if they had just come to me directly!" is.
posted by Marty Marx at 5:13 PM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

We have fires like this all the time, and concrete makes as good a firepit as anything. Are they burning pallets? because if not I'm curious as to why you feel this is such a safety issue? it is coming across more as a "i don't like my neighbors, help me take something from them" to be honest.
posted by fshgrl at 5:56 PM on November 29, 2010

Response by poster: I don't know why you think I want to take anything from my neighbors beyond their ability to easily burn down my apartment. They have an open fire in a tight urban environment that doesn't feel in any way safe to me.

Honestly, the only reason I hesitated to call 311 straight away was because I had no real interest in them incurring fines, or getting in trouble with our landlord. I just want them to stop having open fires in the backyard.
posted by orville sash at 7:05 PM on November 29, 2010

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