Nosy Neighbor: Do Newspaper Boxes Need Permits?

I was wondering if you could do a Nosy Neighbor post on the bins that Downtown Express, Manhattan Family, Learning Annex, Big Apple Parent, and so on place all over. They seem to become eyesores—covered with graffiti, trash, broken plastic doors, stickers, etc. Do they need permission from the city to plop them down wherever? And do building owners have a right to ask them to be removed? —Miriam

This struck me as a question for Community Board 1’s Director of Planning and Land Use (and resident sage), Michael Levine, and indeed, he had the answer. “They’re allowed by the Department of Transportation as long as they occupy no more than three feet of sidewalk space,” he said. “You don’t even need a permit.” I wondered aloud whether the newspaper boxes become de facto public property. I’ve been mulling a guerrilla marketing campaign, and also tempted to dispose of ones that seem to have been forgotten…. “Oh, sure,” was the response. “In some neighborhoods, the Business Improvement Districts rearrange them to make them as neat as possible. But some building managers just throw them away.”

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  1. They are getting uglier and uglier, but they do perform a useful function. On upper Madison Avenue the community has solved the problem by installing chrome colored low, attached boxes — that is four or five in one installation. Some are free and others require a payment to open, e.g. the NYT. A fairly good looking solution to the problem. Probably pricey but perhaps CB 1 and our local BIDS can combine to locate a few of these in unobtrusive, but helpful, areas throughout FiDi, Tribeca and BPC. And haul all the ugly ones far, far away.

  2. and the other issue – they are not filled regularly so often they are ugly and trashy and empty!

  3. So people can just drop, or should I say litter these boxes wherever? So the community has to solve a “problem” that local government let develop? Another fine example of local government not keeping an eye on the community.

  4. The Municipal Art Society went on a campaign years ago to try to clean these up. I believe they are protected by First Amendment though.

  5. Yes, the Newspaper Boxes have a strong lobby that fights for their right to drop their litter & graffiti magnets all over the neighborhood & city. “…as long as they occupy no more than three feet of sidewalk space…they don’t even need a permit.” 5 of these shit boxes grouped together take up more than 3 ft of sidewalk space. CB1 is powerless against this form of kryptonite.