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City life is risky enough for children. Play shouldn't be

Apartment living might not be the norm in New York City, but it is certainly big business. One of the largest players in the market is the New York City Housing Authority. By its own information, NYCHA shelters 1 in 14 New Yorkers in its public housing. A lot of them are families living in large apartment complexes.

It is a credit to the authorities that many of these projects include on-site playground equipment. But such equipment is only as good as its maintenance, and while NYCHA enjoys some exemption from the rules and regulations that apply to private landlords, it still has an obligation to provide safe facilities. When the agency fails, legal action can follow. And based on some recent news reports, it appears NYCHA could see itself facing a growing number of claims.

What prompts this observation is a recent City Comptroller report stating that conditions of most playgrounds at public housing developments are so hazardous that they pose a risk of serious or perhaps even deadly harm to more than 100,000 children in the city.

Details reported by the media include:

  • Slides with pieces of jagged metal protruding from them
  • Jungle gyms with rusted and broken parts upon which children can get caught
  • Wood and metal pieces of equipment patched together shoddily

The audit says that 70 percent of the 788 playgrounds under NYCHA control have unsafe conditions. But equally disturbing, according to the city comptroller, is that in some cases NYCHA reported facilities safe when they were not. In the comptroller's words, "I have no problem calling them bogus inspection reports."

At the time we write this, it's not clear that any children have been injured on the unsafe playgrounds. Maybe they and their parents are smart enough to steer clear of them. However, it's noteworthy that if such unsafe conditions exist on property owned by private landlords, tenants have greater legal options for seeking compensation when injuries do occur than those under NYCHA jurisdiction.

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