Is Your Stoop Private Property?

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Maybe not, based on this tale of post-DNC speech imbibing on a Park Slope stoop that resulted in a $25 ticket. Here’s the tale from Park Slope Parents:

My husband was IMing and having a beer last night on our stoop after Biden’s speech…NYPD roll up in a patrol car and busted him for an open container violation for 25 bucks…he was very polite and told the NYPD he was appreciative of their presence, but asked asked about the public/private space concept, and he explained that if I was behind a fence or gate I would be ok. Since we don’t have a gate, the set-back from the sidewalk didn’t matter.

I was reading a bit about this online today…there is some opinion that the officer needs to report the actual brand of the alcohol being consumed or it won’t hold up in court. The cop actually asked him “What kind of beer are you drinking?” which I thought was odd at the time, but he didn’t write the brand on the ticket. Anyhow, the cops were polite and my husband was polite and overall just a goofy story…we’ll probably just write the check for $25 and mail it in rather than burning up a bunch of time contesting the thing.

Has this happened to anyone else?
Park Slope Row. Photo by senatorpeter6.

0 Comment

  • Biff Champion

    Lisa, thank you for this! Periodically, albeit infrequently, I have a glass of wine or a beer on my stoop and quite recently had a discussion with a friend on whether or not this was legal. I wasn’t quite sure, but just assumed the cops would have better things to do than write up tickets for it, assuming the peace wasn’t being disturbed (and if they didn’t have anything better to do, I would just pay the ticket). Out of curiosity, I would love to know if anyone has a definitive answer – not that it will stop me from doing this going forward.

  • I have also wondered about the stoop as being private property as well.

    We recently purchased a condo in a townhouse that was being renovated for over 1 year. Turns out some of the neihborhood “Kids” were fond of hanging out on our stoop leaving garbage and engaging in certain non-legal activities while the building was vacnt. Now that we are there it seems they are unwilling to give up their affinity for our stoop despite us confronting them several times.

    Any thoughts on if this something we could take to the next level i.e. tresspassing and nuissance. Is our stoop really ours?

  • I have also wondered about the stoop as being private property as well.

    We recently purchased a condo in a townhouse that was being renovated for over 1 year. Turns out some of the neihborhood “Kids” were fond of hanging out on our stoop leaving garbage and engaging in certain non-legal activities while the building was vacnt. Now that we are there it seems they are unwilling to give up their affinity for our stoop despite us confronting them several times.

    Any thoughts on if this something we could take to the next level i.e. tresspassing and nuissance. Is our stoop really ours?

  • as far the ticket, yes the cop has to record the type of beer and sometimes even an estimate as to how much was left. i know this from my college days.
    the cop was just doing his job, and at the same time giving you the opportunity to get out of the ticket if you so choose. you can easily go to court and say, “well what was i drinking? is it written down?” and you will get off.

  • Not related to drinking issue – but I was told by police department that someone were sitting on stoop would be trespassing if there was gate – but if no gate they could do nothing.
    Issue was # of people loitering – not just occasional passerby stopping for a little rest.
    So now I see I have another reason to be glad I have the gate.

  • Whether it is legal or not, it’s pretty lame if you can’t have a beer on you own stoop.

    As for “kids” who refuse to leave… call the police. It will never end up as a court case, so the exact legalities are irrelevant.

  • I always assumed that the stoop was mine. Does this mean that I need to put a fence across my steps in order to drink on the stoop on a weekend afternoon. Where do “they” draw the line? Would a chain across the stoop suffice?

    Biff — no paper bag….no glass? Were you drinking directly from the bottle?

    As for the random people on the stoop —it is time to engage in baseball bat diplomacy. How “nice” have you been during your confrontations? Right now, the kids don’t respond to the pleasant “please move”, so they need a “get your [expletive] [expletive] off of my [expletive] stoop”?

  • The law is against drinking in public, and so its not a question of owning the stoop, but what makes it a public or private space in terms of drinking. But it’s one of those vague amorphous laws that get enforced based on where the sun is in the sky, and is it Friday? yet. But we live in a city that ticketed a man for sitting on a milk crate in front of the store he worked at.

    Trespassing and creating a nuisance is something else though. Where I used to live in downtown Brooklyn people sat on our stoop all the time. Sometimes they ate or drank but the cans were always in paper bags, and they always cleaned up. there We never had a problem. Maybe all that means is you can’t chase them off your stoop if its open to the street, but on the other hand leaving garbage and engaging in non-legal activities is a no-no whether public or private.

  • a couple of points. NY law prohibits drinking in Public so the area in front of your house unless fenced off is considered in public. The ticket doesn’t have to have the type of beer but when the PO asked you they would write it down in their log book so when you go to court they open and say “Reingold” or whatever-its an issue of proof not of the offense charged with.(his statement is proof)..

    as to the kids on your stoop technically most of the first steps are on public property after that its yours. Trespassing occurs when someone remains in open property after being told to leave or if its posted or fenced in(yes I know that is no longer open property) so if you put a sign that says no trespassing you don’t have to tell them to leave and they can be arrested for sitting there without further notice. If you don’t want to post and tell them to leave and they don’t there are trespassing. Most PO’s I know will require you to tell them to leave again in the PO’s presence(its because simple trespass is a violation that has to occur in the officers presence.

  • This happened to me once but boy was I lucky I was drinking a 1962 Château Lafite Rothschild.

    The cops just kept walking.

  • Biff Champion

    Bed Stuy Bully, no, I prefer not to drink beer from a bag (or wine from a box). Anyway, drinking something wrapped in a brown paper bag is often an indication that one isn’t consuming a YooHoo. As for the wine, I used a glass. It’s usually only after 8 or 9 carafes that I start drinking directly from the bottle :-)

  • ugh. my neighbors and i often take out a bottle of wine and share it (and conversation) on the stoop. I never considered it was illegal.

  • I had a neighbor in Williamsburg who frequently had people sit on her front step, which was really more of a loading dock than a stoop, but whatever. If she wanted people to move she would fill a bucket with water, go out front and ask the person to stand, drench the landing and go back inside. Most people shuffled off; eventually it stopped.

  • Hmmm…I think we just solved the missing gates crime. It’s a marauding group of stoop drinkers!

  • Thank goodness I have a fence and a gate, and most of my neighbors do as well! Does it matter if the gate is open?

  • Biff Champion

    altervoce, that’s a great solution. Fortunately, I don’t have an issue with this – once in a while people will rest or hang out for a bit on my stoop, but it’s not often and doesn’t bother me. They usually get up to go when they see me approaching the steps but I always tell them they don’t have to leave.

  • If a cop approached me on my stoop because I was drinking a beer, I’d probably scream, throw the bottle as far as I could, then collapse on my steps and start bawling.

    Would the cop still write the ticket?

  • i think the answer is, ‘it depends.’

    nyc admin code section 10-125 is the city’s ‘open container’ law. it prohibits drinking alcohol in a ‘public place.’ a ‘public place’ is defined as ‘a place to which the public or a substantial group of persons has access.’ the definition gives several examples, including roads, parks, playgrounds, and shopping areas.

    so the issue is whether a stoop is a ‘public place’ within the meaning of this law.

    looking at the examples, the answer would seem to be ‘no,’ since they are all locations that are regularly used by a wide range of members of the public — i.e. property owned by the government, shopping malls, etc. on the other hand, there’s a ny court decision holding that ‘public space’ should be interpreted broadly and that the common area of an apartment building is a public space, even though it’s private property.

    i would say that if a stoop is within the bounds of the property lines, and if the building is a single-family home, then it would be hard to argue that it’s a public place. if, however, the stoop extends onto the sidewalk, or the property is a multi-family (thus resembling the common area of an apartment building held to be a public space by at least one court), then the city probably has the better argument.

  • (the answer to the general question, that is — i don’t know the answer to tybur6′s question!)

  • I think the open container and trespassing issues are separate. As Z and others point out, the open container law is governed by the definition of “public place.” As SMeyer says, trespass depends on whether it’s open or closed property. So, as is often the case, you could have a fenced stoop that sits on the public sidewalk. You own the stoop and it’s fenced, so someone sitting on the stoop without permission would be trespassing. But because it sits on the public sidewalk, it would also be considered public space and drinking on it would be a violation of the open container law.

  • My neighbor was given a ticket recently. Even though our stoops are private property, it is still considered public space, as an open container is an open container.
    I suggest using a plastic tumbler, which is what I always do when I want to enjoy some wine/beer on my stoop and watch the world walk by down DeKalb.

  • This happened to me in Sunset Park about 2 or 3 years ago. I own a house on th block but was having a beer with a friend on his stoop down the street (he owns on the block too). The cops were very aggressive and were ready to bust for smoking weed to (even though we weren’t). We were just “having a beer” and were not “partying at all”. We got tickets and I actually went to the 72nd precinct the next day to compalin. I honestly think there are more significant issues to address in the neighborghood than us having a beer.

    I had to go to court, but they give you an option to take a quick “quality of life” course. It lasts about an hour and the fine is waved. The whole thing was totally ridiculous. The logic is that your stoop is a public place because it is in public view – regardless of wheter or not you own it. And for the record we were behind a gate, so that’s not an issue.

    From talking to the cops I learned that the best thing to do is to have that drink on your stoop. Just pour your beer in a cup or glass.

  • I’m wondering what constitutes a fence. If I string a chain across the stoop, does that count?

    I don’t really have a beef with someone sitting down on my stoop, though the crew that is happily erecting a 15 story monolith that has already obliterated my tiny view of sky … it doesn’t thrill me that they sit on our stoop to watch their work.

  • Arkady

    In the same way that the city can give you a ticket for having rubbish in your front area, it is considered public space (gate or no gate.) Your ownership starts at the building line.

  • As to trespass: If the area is not fenced or otherwise designed to exclude intruders, you probably need a no trespass sign to put people on notice to stay off your property. That doesn’t mean it’s public property, but absent the no trespassing notice you’ll have a hard time prosecuting.

    As to the open container law, the statute defines public places as:

    A place to which the public or a substantial group of persons has access including, but not limited to, any highway, street, road, sidewalk, parking area, shopping area, place of amusement, playground, park or beach located within the city except that the definition of a public place shall not include those premises duly licensed for the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages on the premises or within their own private property. Such public place shall also include the interior of any stationary motor vehicle which is on any highway, street, road, parking area, shopping area, playground, park or beach located within the city.

    Although pro-prosectuion judges might strain to find a person’s own stoop to be a “public place,” the fact that the stoop is private property (assuming it isn’t a stoop shared by tenants, apartment dwellers etc., which might make it a “public place) should insulate the drinker from prosecution.

    Incidentally, some judges will dismiss open containeer charges when there are not sufficient allegations to establish that the beverage in question was alcoholic (e.g. allegations about a beer label, or allegations that the officer smelled alcohol in the container).

  • Biff Champion

    Thanks AdrianLesher. That’s interesting. I didn’t realize a public place includes the interior of any stationary motor vehicle on the street. So if I see a hot blond in a convertible at a red light, am I allowed to jump in and open a set? I guess once the light turns, she has the right to throw me out.

  • I got one of those. It was dismissed via mail, and never had to go to court. I also didn’t have to option to NOT go to Court. There must be a lot of different kinds of open container tickets.

  • daveinbedstuy

    I’d like to clarify the “public space” and “fence” issue…

    1. Does it mean that I can sit on the ground level in the fenced (3′ high) garden area and drink?

    2. As others have mentioned, does a chain or a rope across the front constitute a fence??? Not that I think I’d ever string a rope across the fence to have a drink.

    3. Could you put up a “baby gate” that would constitute a fence…and look even more ridiculous.

    I think I’ll try more often to drink on my stoop. It’d be worth the $25 to find out the answers to all of these questions…assuming the cops know!!! And’ I’d get a really cool ticket to frame next to my Hong Kong arrest report for having no ID on me.

  • daveinbedstuy

    Just thought of something else…..the public nudity/indecency/sex question and its relevance to your stoop and your gated/fenced front yard.

    Discuss.

  • He got the ticket because he is a Democrat.

  • arkady: that’s not correct. your “ownership” starts wherever the property line starts. but as z and others have pointed out, that’s not the same as an exclusive right to it, or the right to do whatever you want in that space. whether part of your property can also be considered “public” in some circumstances, or whether someone else has access to it for specific purposes (public utilities, the mail delivery), or whether the government can penalize you for not maintaining it in a certain way is a matter of the individual codes and the courts’ interpretations of them. it doesn’t mean cops and other agencies don’t sometimes interpret those codes overbroadly, but you have to decide whether it’s worth it to you to fight the interpretation or not.

  • I’d prefer the cops pay more attention to the hypodermic needle and condom wrappers I’ve found recently in my front yard, than to the beer in my hand.

  • Just keep a copy of your property survey in your pocket, and make sure you stay off the part of your stoop, if any, that extends into the mapped street.

  • Foolproof way to drink in public.

    Use your kids sippy cup.

  • no one has asked the most important question of all: is it legal to poop on your own stoop?

  • Biff Champion

    z, I’m ashamed to admit I was going to ask that very question, but wanted to see how long this thread would go without any mention of the Throop Loop Stoop Pooper. We made it to 34!

  • “the Throop Loop Stoop Pooper”

    Why don’t the neighbors band together to form a clean-up brigade: the Throop Loop Stoop Poop Scoop Troop.

  • Biff Champion

    I like that Flabushwhacker. And the hunched back and shoulders they come to suffer from after hours of intense labor can be known as the “Throop Loop Stoop Poop Scoop Troop Droop”

  • denton

    FatLenny wrote: “I’d prefer the cops pay more attention to the hypodermic needle and condom wrappers I’ve found recently in my front yard, than to the beer in my hand.”

    So here’s the thing: We all think we’re good upstanding citizens, which we are, lol, and that the cops should go after those who are not (that group of 8 kids wearing do-rags and drinking Colt 45).

    But just like the cops are being asked to record stop-and-frisks by race, to ensure that minorities aren’t the only ones being stopped, so the cops have to enforce open container laws against all lawbreakers. If that’s what it takes to show certain groups that the law is being enforced fairly and squarely against all comers, so be it.

    A Puerto Rican kid who used to work for me, who was definitely wearing a doo-rag and listening to hip-hop while sharing a forty with a friend, albeit behind a fence in a closed yard (there goes that theory) was approached by two undercover cops. The cops wrote them up for open container. Then they told my friend to pour the beer on the ground, which he did. Then they gave him a ticket for littering.

    See what you’re missing?

  • Hey “I disagree” the police will tell you that the enforcement of the open container law HAS had a significant inpact on crime. They in most neighborhoods pat the drinker down and if they find a weapon its a least a year in jail so the people drinking have stopped carrying weapons. Now when they get drunk they don’t kill anybody…..

  • I’m going to stage a Coup to stop all this talk about Poo!

  • So if I decide have a glass of wine on my stoop I’ll make sure to leave the corkscrew in the house lest that $25.00 fine become a jail sentence!

  • Biff Champion

    What if you have a license to carry a corkscrew?

  • What about front porches? Not screened in porches…but the kinds in WT, south slope, Ditmas Park that are pushed back off the main street, without a fence surrounding them and still in public view?
    It’s private property, but it is in plain view

  • I just had a convo. with my dad (retired city cop). Althought he’s not familiar with the specific codes in Brooklyn he seems to think it really boils down to how the local precincts interpret and enforce the codes. In “problem” areas they may tend to be a little more wide sweeping with their interpretations and quicker to enforce them while in areas that see few problems with regard to public drunkenness (and it’s spin-offs- violence, vandalism, etc.) they may not feel it’s something worth enforcing. He pointed out if you always have the same guy sitting on his stoop consuming alcohol for extended periods it’s probably a nosy neighbor calling the cops and therefor “forcing their hand”.

    Take it for what it’s worth.

  • The truth of the matter is if you can be seen drinking alcohol in public (which is a vague term), on your stoop or property which is visable to the public you can be given a ticket. Prior to the mid 80′s the police didn’t inforce this rule — now the city needs any penny (or $25-$100.) it can make on tickets. They (the police) now actually do come up to people drinking from containers consealed in brown bags and ask to inspect what is inside the brown paper bag.

  • there’s a difference between what the law is and how it is enforced. just because cops write tickets for something doesn’t mean it’s actually prohibited by law. it may just mean that the penalties are so small that no one bothers with a legal challenge.

    also, ‘visible to the public’ isn’t the test. can you get a ticket if you are drinking in your living room and people can see you from the sidewalk through the window? can you get a ticket if you are drinking on a private balcony that is visible from the street?

  • I wouldn’t think so, z. You would be within your personal home and within the building- even the terrace.

    Standing naked on the balcony might be a little different! More of a share the fun thing.

  • Had this happen to me on my own stoop (no fence). The ticket required a court appearance; I showed up and it was dismissed immediately (same thing for neighbor, who was having a beer with me). We were polite and cooperative, so it is possible the cops may have written up a faulty summons on purpose. In all, it wound up costing me nothing and wasting half an hour of my life waiting on line (I didn’t have to sit through any class, either).

    After I was ticketed, I asked a cop friend what the deal was – he said that if we had gone into the house, the cops wouldn’t pursue. Don’t know if I believe that.

    Now I drink out of a plastic cup when I’m on the stoop.

  • There could be another wrinkle to the public/private property discussion. If you check the survey of many properties with high stoops, you will find that that part of the stoop and the front yard area are actually not within the bounds of the property. In some cases the line leaves about half the stoop out of the property boundary. Wonder how that plays into the argument concerning the gate given by the officer. :(

  • Man, if there was ever a case of “Don’t tread on me.” this is it.

    My friend and i split a bottle of champagne on my front stoop area and she was worried about it. I told her the cops should be more worried about the crack dealers down the street, and so they were. A foot patrol went by and merely nodded at me. I drunkenly waved back.

  • Searched up this thread because my friend was served a summons for a beer on the stoop.

    I posit that it is, indeed, quite legal to drink on your own stoop.

    Let’s review the NYCAC 10-125 wording again:

    2. Public place. A place to which the public or a substantial group of persons has access including, but not limited to, any highway, street, road, sidewalk, parking area, shopping area, place of amusement, playground, park or beach located within the city except that the definition of a public place shall not include those premises duly licensed for the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages on the premises or within their own private property. Such public place shall also include the interior of any stationary motor vehicle which is on any highway, street, road, parking area, shopping area, playground, park or beach located within the city.

    Okay. A place = The stoop portion of a private residence
    The public = the people as a whole and/or a substantial group of persons
    access = permission, liberty, or ability to enter, approach, or pass to and from a place or to approach or communicate with a person or thing b : freedom or ability to obtain or make use of something c : a way or means of access d : the act or an instance of accessing

    Let’s begin with a semantic argument (or incongruity #1):

    Neither the people as a whole nor a substantial group of persons (whatever that means) has “access” to a stoop simultaneously due to the size limitations of said space.

    Incongruity #2:

    No one except the owner/tenants/authorized guests is allowed on any part of the privately owned real property at any time or for any reason. That is to say that the people as a whole have neither permission nor liberty and thereby no (legal) ability to occupy the space/cross the threshold; a private stoop is a place to which the public does not have access.

    This is 100% logically sound, which means that it is probably wrong. To me, the legality seems irrefutable, but pigs are pigs and the city is quite intent on nickel-and-diming its people for every last drop. Regardless, I have consumed several hundred beers on my stoop and will continue to do so. The pigs can eat my shorts, as it were.

  • Okay, so a couple friends and I were very quietly sharing a bottle of wine and talking tonight on the front stoop of our brownstone and we were all given a summons/$25 ticket. And while it’s not the $25 that upsets me, but the fact that I’m concerned that this may affect me at work as I work in a field that requires extensive background checks. I have to agree that the front stoop does not seem to meet the criteria for the law (thus the reason we were drinking there in the first place).

    I also have to agree with those who stated that the NYPD should have more important things to do. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I’m a little pissed off that the NYPD has time to circle my block 8 times and write us a ticket for a quiet drink on what I consider to be our own private property while the 2 men that gang-raped me are running free because the detective on my case doesn’t have the time to investigate the case and took a month just to make a single phone call.