Is It Legal to Use a Fire Escape as a Patio?

published Jun 29, 2017
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(Image credit: Erin Wengrovius)

The resounding goal of summer, no matter where in the country you live, is to spend as much time as possible outdoors. From cooking up some chicken on the grill to hanging by the pool, the more time under the sun, the better.

But where does that leave city-dwellers who don’t have a sprawling suburban backyard to turn to? Well, for some, summer means it’s fire escape season. Before you climb out your window and onto your apartment’s perch, there are a few important things you should know.

First: It may go without saying, but fire escapes are most importantly for safety. In the event of a fire or other emergency (like a gas leak), it may be your only viable way out of the apartment and therefore you should take caution when using it for anything other than a quick way out of your home.

That being said, in large cities especially, it’s not unusual to find apartment-dwellers posting up on their fire escapes after dark, sipping a glass of wine and enjoying the fresh air.

3 Key Rules

1. Don’t store anything on your fire escape.

Not only is it against regulations in most major cities, but it’s good practice to keep your fire escape free of lounge chairs, tables, and grills in case of emergency.

2. Limit the number of people on it.

It’s typically not illegal to sit or stand on your fire escape, but considering most can only safely fit around two or three people, it’s probably not smart to make it party central. At the most, use it as a place to read a book or catch up with your roommate. When you head back inside, be sure to pack up anything you may have brought out there and take it with you.

3. Do not grill on it.

Whether you boast a two-foot-by-two-foot space or a whole patio, grilling is typically a no-no. Ordinances in most cities state that your grill must be more than 10 feet from anything that can easily catch fire — including building walls, greenery, and more — making balcony barbecues (and especially fire escape grilling sessions) off-limits. If you clear that 10-foot limitation, we actually suggest an electric grill. Again, safety first!

Do you use your fire escape?