Dismantle This Law: New York’s Scaffold Law Diminishes Affordable Housing Supply by Driving up the Cost of Construction

You’ve heard the warnings from voices throughout the city, including on these pages: With the COVID pandemic having throttled entire industries and devastated incomes, millions of New Yorkers are way behind on their rents. When moratoriums lift and bills come due, expect to see a flurry of evictions.

As the dark clouds gather, there are many ways to put up umbrellas, including targeted federal aid and more intelligently designed local and state rent vouchers. But over the long run, New York will never be able to build the housing it needs if it can’t bring down the cost of construction in the five boroughs.

And so we reintroduce you to one giant, concrete obstacle: New York’s Scaffold Law. Dating back to 1885, the law holds building owners and developers 100% liable for height-related injuries even if they were only 1% at fault.

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