Homeowners win lawsuit against city over trash collections

June 19, 2019 Paula Katinas
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They won!

Bay Ridge homeowners who took the New York City Department of Sanitation to court over trash collections have won their suit, it was learned on Wednesday.

“Who says you can’t fight City Hall?” a jubilant Councilmember Justin Brannan told the Home Reporter.

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A group of determined homeowners living on four private streets — Wogan Terrace (off  94th Street between Fifth Avenue and Fort Hamilton Parkway), Hamilton Walk and Lafayette Walk (perpendicular to 94th Street between Third and Fourth Avenues) and Barwell Terrace (off 97th Street between Third and Fourth Avenues) — filed a court action known as an Article 78 lawsuit in 2017 to try to force the DSNY to collect trash from in front of their homes again.

An Article 78 lawsuit is an action that seeks to reverse a decision made by city government.

The city had stopped sending sanitation workers onto those streets, which are located in alleyways, in March of 2017 and ordered the residents to start hauling their household garbage over to the closest public streets, a distance in some cases the length of a football field.

The homeowners, who were represented by lawyer Stephen Harrison, charged that the lack of direct services outside their homes caused a significant hardship to them.

The plaintiffs said they were told by sanitation officials that the change in trash collection routes was instituted in Bay Ridge out of concern for the safety of sanitation workers.

Hon. Katherine Levine, the judge presiding over the case, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.

In her decision, dated June 14, Levin wrote that while DSNY “has broad discretion to establish routes, it has failed to set forth any rational basis or sound factual predicate to support its decision in the instant matter.”

The court nullified DSNY’s decision to discontinue trash collection on the four streets.

The ruling means that DSNY will have to resume trash collections of the four streets as soon as possible, Harrison said.

Several residents who live on nearby public streets also signed onto the lawsuit. DSNY’s decision to stop visiting the four blocks meant that private street residents were forced to drop off their trash in front of other people’s homes on public streets.

“How would you like to be a homeowner and have other people’s garbage piling up outside your house?” asked Community Board 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann, who supported the plaintiffs.

Amanda Regnier, a Wogan Terrace resident, called the win “a huge relief.”

The plaintiffs were not seeking monetary damages, just equitable treatment from the city, according to Regnier. “We’re not looking for better treatment than anyone else gets. We just want the same level of service given to other New Yorkers,” she told the Home Reporter.

The next step, according to Harrison, is to present the NewYork City Law Department with Levine’s decision officially, something he said he would do by day’s end. “We are very, very pleased with the judge’s decision,” he said.

Brannan, who called the judge’s ruling “a major victory for our neighborhood,” said DSNY’s decision to stop picking up the trash never made any sense.

“The city collecting trash on private streets dates back almost a century! I have no idea why the city thought they could just cut this service out of nowhere and we would be okay with it. The homeowners of Wogan Terrace, Lafayette Walk, Hamilton Walk and Barwell Terrace pay taxes just like everyone else and deserve to have their garbage picked up just like everyone else,” he said.

The lawsuit win “is not only a community victory but a victory for common sense,” Brannan added.

Beckmann said she was delighted for the plaintiffs. “I always thought it was the wrong decision to order residents to place their trash in front of other people’s homes. It should not have had to take a lawsuit to correct this decision,” she told the Home Reporter.

Nick Paolucci, a spokesperson for the New York City Law Department, said the city is reviewing its options in the wake of the judge’s ruling.

“The Department of Sanitation is committed to providing services in a manner that is safe for employees and property owners. The DSNY determined it was inappropriate and dangerous to continue collecting trash from these private narrow streets, and placing trash at the nearest public curb is a workable alternative. We are disappointed with the court’s decision and evaluating our legal options,” he told the Home Reporter in an email.

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