Remove A Fire Escape on a Landmark Townhouse

by | Last updated Jul 8, 2023 | Landmarks, Renovations

You just bought a beautiful New York townhouse or one that needs work but has lots of potential. The only problem is there is an ugly fire escape on the front of it. You then ask, can a fire escape be removed from the front of a Landmark Townhouse in NYC?

In most cases, you can get approval from LPC to remove a fire escape in New York. If it is original to the building or has significant architectural value, it may be more complicated and potentially rejected by the LPC (Landmarks Preservation Commission).

I am Jorge Fontan, an architect and owner of Fontan Architecture a Manhattan-based architecture firm. In this post we will review some key points to removing fire escapes from Landmark Townhouses in NYC. We have another post with a general overview of NYC Townhouse Renovations if you are interested. 


When Fire Escapes are a Means of Egress

If you are planning to remove a fire escape, I first want to figure out whether or not we need it as a means of egress. If we do, this becomes a bigger problem than just navigating the NYC Landmarks regulations and can become impractical.

No second means of egress from a single-family home is required. Therefore, removal is an acceptable alteration as far as the NYC Department of Buildings is concerned for single-family use. Of course, filing and permits are required, but there should be no building code issues.


Original or Architectural Significance

If you want to remove a fire escape on a townhouse or building within a landmark district, you need to understand the significance of the fire escape. There are two primary points to consider:

First, you want to know if the fire escape is original to the building or if it was added.

Second, does the fire escape hold any architectural significance? Is it located in a district known for architecturally ornate fire escapes? Or does it have decorative features that add to the overall architecture?


Landmarks Preservation Commission

Removing a fire escape on a Historic Landmark building or within a Landmark district will require approval from the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) and a permit from the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB)

When filing this type of application with LPC, there are two types of reviews that you may face: Staff level or Full Commission review and Public Hearing.

A staff level review is always preferable when dealing with LPC, as it is commonly an easier and faster review process. If the fire escape is not original to the building and holds no architectural significance, LPC staff can approve its removal. This protocol is preferable as it will take some time but will be better than Public Hearing.

If a fire escape holds architectural significance or is original to the building, the LPC may require a full review by the Commission with a Public Hearing. The hearing will most certainly take longer and be a much more involved process. The biggest problem is that they could possibly deny your application to remove the fire escape even after the review and hearing. By this point, you will have spent a great deal of time, energy, and money just to receive a potential denial.

Historic Photo of Landmark Townhouse with fire escape

Historic Photo of Landmark Townhouse with fire escape


NYC Landmark Fire Escape Removal

New York City Landmark regulations can be complicated. This post is meant to give a general overview of some of the issues you may encounter when trying to remove a fire escape from a Landmark building façade. You will need an architect who is familiar with the procedure and pertinent issues. Understanding the prerequisite criteria, logistical protocols, and architectural elements will be critical in strategizing for this type of project. Most importantly, remember that not all fire escapes can actually be removed.


Thank You for Reading Our Blog Post on Removing Fire Escapes on NYC Landmark Townhouses. 

I hope this was helpful. If you want to speak with an architect about a potential project, contact us at Fontan Architecture directly.


Contact Fontan Architecture

Jorge Fontan

Jorge Fontan

This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 20 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.