At least one New York City passerby is cognizant of the perils of open cellar doors.

Question: There’s a bodega on my block that always seems to have its sidewalk cellar door open. I’m afraid that someone (like me!) is going to slip someday and end up in the owner’s basement. I’ve mentioned it to the people who work the counter. They shrug. Who’s in charge? Where can I complain? What exactly are the rules about this?

— Jumpy in Jackson Heights

Dear Jumpy:

First, put away your phone. No texting and walking.

One would think that in New York — where everything from the hanging of clothes on an outdoor line to taking a selfie near a tiger is either officially proscribed, regulated or licensed — that the operation and maintenance of something so innately hazardous as sidewalk cellar doors would be closely scrutinized and policed with a proverbial vengeance. One would think.

But one would be wrong. While the city has plenty to say about the care and maintenance of its 12,750 miles of sidewalks, it has very little on the books about these steel or cast-iron remnants of 19th- and early 20th-century New York. Within the city’s vast array of sidewalk regulations, for instance, is this secondary phrase on what constitutes a door problem that must be fixed: “cellar doors that deflect greater than one inch when walked on, are not skid resistant or are otherwise in a dangerous or unsafe condition.”

So from the city’s point of view, it’s not the open doors that pose you the greatest risk, it’s the closed ones.

That said, you are not without official recourse. If you think a shop owner’s door is defective or if he is operating his doors in an unsafe manner, you can file a complaint here.

If that doesn’t awaken the shop owner to the hazard, there are also plenty of personal-injury law firms willing to take up the matter, should you or a fellow pedestrian take an unintended cellar door flop.

David Crook is a veteran journalist and author of The Complete Wall Street Journal Real-Estate Investing and Homeowner’s Guidebooks. Do you have a question about anything real estate-related in NYC? Write him at For verification purposes, please include your name and a phone number; neither will be published. Note: Nothing in this column should be considered professional legal advice. If you have a legal issue, consult an attorney.

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