Is New York City's Tar Beach still a thing?
July 8, 2014 8:27 PM   Subscribe

The door to the roof of my new NYC apartment beckons to me with dreams of sunset glasses of wine and weekend lunch picnics, but am I inviting trouble? Does "unofficial rooftop access" exist? I know people in the city hang out on their roofs all the time, but exactly how kosher is this? And what is the limit? Do landlords on average just turn a blind eye? Details inside.

I have no plans on hosting a big rooftop party/blasting music/smoking/grilling on the roof, but it would be nice to read up there occasionally and maybe even keep some potted plants in the summer.

Door has no warning signs except a "keep door closed when not in use" placard. Door is not alarmed and is locked from the inside with one of those hook and loop deals. Not sure what the roof is made of, but it is painted white. It is a three story building, the roof is empty at the moment, and my apartment is on the top floor so I would be careful to only walk above my own apartment as to not disturb others with noise.

Nothing mentioned about rooftop access in the lease.
Haven't met the other tenants yet, and thus haven't had to ask them.
Until I know how common a practice this unofficial rooftop thing is I would prefer not ask my new landlord and make a first(ish) impression as a boundary pushing ass.

Personal anecdotes welcome!
posted by snappysnapper to Home & Garden (27 answers total)
If it looks and feels safe, and you don't find it even hotter up there, then indulge! I attended many, many rooftop parties in my years in New York.
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:34 PM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I say go for it, but know that unless you water any potted plants like 2-3 times a day, they're going to get fried.
posted by chowflap at 8:38 PM on July 8, 2014

Be aware that if your other neighbors see you using the roof they too will do so and will probably not be as considerate as you plan to be.
posted by elizardbits at 8:48 PM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Only to read and hang out? You're fine. Just respect the extra space, don't mess with anything up there, and always lock the door behind you when you're done. If the landlord tells you to stop, then stop, but otherwise I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by greenland at 8:57 PM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

The limit is anything heavy, especially anything heavy with a small amount of surface area, the easier to puncture the roof and invite leaks.

Large potted plants have been beyond the pale on most unfinished NYC roofs I've been privy to.

Also, yes, do not assume you're the only one using the roof. I frankly would not leave anything up there for fear of theft, before landlord issues.

Fairy lights and a few folding chairs is the most I've ever seen a landlord really allow on an unfinished roof.
posted by Sara C. at 9:00 PM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've always worked under the assumption that if the landlord hasn't locked it or sealed it off somehow, then it's free for the taking. Also "keep door closed when not in use" seems an implicit invitation to use the roof. I don't know anyone who doesn't take advantage of roof access.
posted by greta simone at 9:02 PM on July 8, 2014 [8 favorites]

Potted plants can blow off the roof (or be thrown off the roof by kids). There was a folding chair stuck in one of my backyard trees for years, because it had been blown/thrown off. Reading on a roof is great, though. Enjoy!
posted by unknowncommand at 9:03 PM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Erm, I know nothing about rooftop access in NY, official or otherwise, BUT - make sure nobody can lock the door from the inside while you're up there. ;)
posted by Salamander at 9:05 PM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Consider using a folding chair with a bit of built-in sun shade. (And resist the urge to install a pool.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:19 PM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Go for it!

Careful about shoes, though. In particular, absolutely no high heels -- they'll punch right through the tar paper.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:28 PM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I suggest you ask your manager/superintendent about rooftop access at your building, rather than guess.
posted by Pudhoho at 9:31 PM on July 8, 2014

I was on an east village rooftop for a small gathering, when some storm clouds nearby gave us a beautiful lightning show, without actually raining on us. That night I read on an EMT's blog how she went on a call a few blocks from the roof I was on because a man had been killed by lightning.
posted by Sophont at 9:42 PM on July 8, 2014

I have the opposite suggestion of above actually. Asking is like the rule with calling stores on slickdeals to ask if a sale is still on. Asking is just giving them an opportunity to say no, or change the rules.

If there's no sign saying "no trespassing" or "no tenant access" or whatever, then it's open season.

Nothing mentioned about rooftop access in the lease.

This is a huge thing too. The places i knew where they got testy about it made a point of putting it in there.

Pretty much, my opinion is that they have ample opportunity to tell you not to do it. They actually have skin in the game of not openly endorsing it for liability reasons* but probably don't really care unless/until someone fucks something up. You don't have any like, moral obligation here to ask them or anything.

I have been on many, many roofs at friends places and stuff. Anywhere where they didn't lock it was fair game, pretty much. I wish my current place had a less crappy roof layout/access wise so i could hang out up there more.

And yea, once again, if the most they're saying is "keep the door shut" then they don't give a crap. I know several people in NYC who live in buildings that have alarms/etc for the roof door along with signs and all that.

*at least in my city, on the west coast, but i could see this being a general thing
posted by emptythought at 10:20 PM on July 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

If there's no alarm, and nothing explicit in the form of verbal agreement, lease mention, etc. - go for it. Not sure that I'd want a potted plant though, it'd just be weird and lonely. Food, friends, a towel, book.. Anecdotes? My cat got up there once and I ended up chasing him across 6 buildings. And oh, I'd just ask other tenants, or maybe look for signs of use, cans, cig butts, whatnot.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 11:23 PM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know much about roof access, but I urge you to take a phone with you, in case someone locks the door when you're up there.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 12:16 AM on July 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Or abseiling gear.
posted by hattifattener at 12:27 AM on July 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've been on countless rooftops in NYC. If it's not mentioned in the lease and if there's no alarm system to prevent you from go up, go forth and use it! Just make sure to lock it behind you when you come back down.
posted by suedehead at 12:30 AM on July 9, 2014

You can definitely ruin the roof by putting stuff up there and walking around too much. Go up there every once in a while, maybe with one or two friends, but keep it to that.
posted by evil otto at 1:55 AM on July 9, 2014

As mentioned previously- nothing heavy (potted plants count as heavy- if you want those set up a window box) nothing pointy, nothing left up longer than a few hrs.

When I moved into my apt many, many years ago, I asked when I signed the lease if it was possible to go up on the roof to suntan and read in the summer- the landlord agreed, but then mentioned that I should only stay on the part of the roof over my own apt- it is surprisingly loud when people walk around up there!

I always make sure to leave my fireescape window cracked so I can get back in if I get locked up there- no one is going to help you break back into your own building!

If you are going to lay out there, I recommend picking up a cheapie yoga mat- it will protect you from the rediculous heat radiating off the roof.
posted by larthegreat at 4:44 AM on July 9, 2014

I would definitely ask the landlord about that first. I nth what everyone else has mentioned about possible damage. If the roof isn't finished to sustain traffic and stuff like chairs and tables, you can create trouble. I am having a great deal of problems with a leak issue that has been ongoing for eight years in my building. I live on the top floor and have most of the damage, but leaks affect other floors as well as units that are not on the same line as me. Every time work is done, I expect the problem to be solved, but it isn't because someone feels the rules of not entertaining themselves or others on the roof doesn't apply to them. You asking this question already shows you are conscientious, I'd ask the landlord because there may be things we may not think of like insurance of those going on the roof or summons that could be issued caused by debris that may be left that could find its way to the ground or someone else's property.

Also, not locking the roof is a necessity for the safety of the tenants in NYC. If there is a fire or some other emergency it may be that the roof is the only way for you to safely escape or be rescued. Please don't think an unlocked roof means open season.
posted by Yellow at 4:57 AM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, go up there but don't ruin it for the rest of your building by setting up an un sanctioned chill zone with chairs, flower boxes, etc., and don't leave crap in the stairwell. That's how inspectors and insurance agents notice and then your landlord throws everything away and installs a lock.

Saddest summer.
posted by thirdletter at 4:58 AM on July 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Go for it! Unless the landlord has specifically forbidden it or barred access, it's fine. Utilizing rooftop space is a quintessential NYC summer activity, and I frequently see people on theirs while I'm hanging out on mine. Not sure why people are concerned about damaging the roof; mine contains a grill, metal furniture, and a small garden with no ill effects. If you want to grow plants up there keep in mind that it can get super windy so smaller containers should be arranged so they won't get blown over.
posted by fox problems at 5:50 AM on July 9, 2014

Do not ask (easier to ask forgiveness than permission) and do not keep anything up there. But feel free to use as you like!
posted by valeries at 5:54 AM on July 9, 2014

People are saying you can damage a roof because you can damage a roof. If you own property you become quite familiar with what things it's possible to damage and how much they cost to repair. Silvering a roof is expensive. If you don't know what that is, then you don't know enough to say there's no cause to concern yourself with possibly damaging a roof.

Barbecuing on a rooftop is dangerous. Lying in a lounge chair is not. Being mindful of other people's priorities is always wise, particularly in NYC where space is at a premium and where everything costs a fortune to maintain. Be smart and respectful and remember that somebody other than you owns the property you're enjoying and will be the one to pay if it's damaged.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 6:36 AM on July 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just for a "keep people from locking you out" point, maybe you could put a little padlock through the loop?
posted by mr. digits at 10:38 AM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

The go-to way to avoid a lockout situation is a cinderblock kept in the stairwell to prop the door with.
posted by Sara C. at 2:23 PM on July 9, 2014

Wouldn't it be best to ask around?
Not the super -- what else can he/she tell you but the paper rules? Not to mention you're ratting out your neighbors. Instead, ask them -- they'll tell you the real rules.
posted by LonnieK at 8:41 PM on July 10, 2014

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