Pandemic-era dining sheds in NYC destroy quality of life with rats, drugs, noise: suit

A group of Big Apple residents has slammed the city with a lawsuit over an outdoor street food program launched during the pandemic — claiming it has led to more trash, bugs, drug use, graffiti, noise and horrible stenches in the boroughs .

The lawsuit was filed by 35 people living in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx who are challenging the Temporary Open Restaurant program, which aims to help restaurants and bars stay afloat during the COVID-19 outbreak by allowing them to expand outdoor seating.

However, residents are noting that other pandemic-era rules, such as those on masks, vaccines and social distancing, have ended as the outbreak subsides, arguing that there is no longer any justification for continuing the TOR program in an emergency — particularly since eating sheds have led to the decline of their neighborhoods, according to the Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit filed late Friday.

“The open restaurant program has turned a once-pleasant city block, with a healthy balance of commercial and residential use, into a somber shantytown streetscape fueled by alcohol sales and marked by sanitation and noise violations,” one of the plaintiffs, Douglas Armer, wrote in one court record.

Armer says the program has impacted his family’s quality of life in their neighborhood around East 20th Street between Broadway and Park Avenue South.

Many residents argue that the food shed has long since become an eyesore.
Many residents argue that the food shed has long since become an eyesore.
GN Miller/NY Post
The scales are little more than a breeding ground for vermin, the lawsuit claims.
The scales are little more than a breeding ground for vermin, the lawsuit claims.
GN Miller/NY Post

According to an affidavit he filed in the case, “the sheds house vermin, collect food waste and impede garbage collection,” and there are broken glass and standing water in the gutters.

In addition to the structures causing a crowd on the sidewalks, “the ‘party’ atmosphere created by the mass of intoxicated patrons is intimidating to young children, casual passers-by and local residents alike,” Armer’s affidavit said .

Angela Bilotti of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, says the sheds are seeing increased rodents, trash and mosquitoes, and a “horrible” stench is taking hold after storms left standing water at the edge of the walls.

The rats have become such a problem that “during the evening dog walks you can even hear rats fighting under the shed floors or running in droves on the sidewalk and the street,” Bilotti wrote in a court filing.

Residents are noting that other pandemic-era rules have ended as the outbreak has subsided, arguing that there is no longer any justification for continuing the TOR program.
Residents are noting that other pandemic-era rules have ended as the outbreak has subsided, arguing that there is no longer any justification for continuing the TOR program.
GN Miller/NY Post
The lawsuit was filed by 35 people living in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx who challenge the Temporary Open Restaurant program.
The lawsuit was filed by 35 people living in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx who challenge the Temporary Open Restaurant program.
GN Miller/NY Post

“Riding my bike is dodging rat roadkill,” she wrote.

Brooklyn Community Board 4 chair Robert Camacho says many Bushwick restaurants use the sheds for storage rather than al fresco dining.

Kids also use some of these unoccupied structures to drink and get high, and people leave empty bottles and condoms inside, Camacho said.

Pooled water and trash near the sheds have caused them to smell “like urine and human feces,” he wrote in his affidavit.

Accumulated water and rubbish by the sheds has made it smelly "such as urine and human feces."
Accumulated water and rubbish near the sheds have caused them to smell “like urine and human feces”.
Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Michael Sussman, a residents’ attorney, said the TOR program was implemented without public participation due to the public health emergency declared during COVID.

“We didn’t contest it because the emergency was ongoing,” Sussman told the Post. “But when the emergency ends, you can’t just say there’s still an emergency.”

“It sets a dangerous precedent,” he added. “What else can you do? We will have martial law. You can’t run a city like that.”

This is the second lawsuit Sussman has filed against the city over the outdoor dining program.

ooklyn Community Board 4 chair Robert Camacho says many Bushwick restaurants use the sheds for storage rather than al fresco dining.
Brooklyn Community Board 4 chair Robert Camacho says many Bushwick restaurants use the sheds for storage rather than al fresco dining.
Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Last year, he filed a lawsuit on behalf of another group of city dwellers who opposed allowing the outdoor dining program to become permanent.

That lawsuit is being challenged by the city after residents successfully argued that officials failed to conduct due public review on the effects of continuing the outdoor dining program indefinitely.

The plan to make the program permanent has been halted pending appeal.

The Post reported last month that New Yorkers were disgusted by the city’s stench, which had reached rancid proportions.

Mayor Eric Adams responded to the lawsuit at a news conference Monday, saying he supports al fresco dining but acknowledging that “we need to change … because some of the al fresco dining have become a hazard.”

“They have become places that [are] not suitable,” said Adams. “And I think there’s an opportunity to modify to standardize how the structure should look and how they need to be used.”

Still, “It can’t be used for storage, it can’t be used for all other things,” the mayor said. “But I support al fresco dining. And I just think it’s been a lifeline for the restaurant industry.”

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Additional reporting by Zach Williams

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