NEW YORK (PIX11) – New York City is cracking down on abandoned and dilapidated outdoor dining structures.

As city leaders work toward making outdoor dining a permanent fixture in New York City, a new initiative is underway to remove outdoor dining structures that were left behind when restaurants shut down.

The city completed an initial blitz to remove 24 dining sheds around the city on Thursday. The abandoned outdoor dining structures were part of New York City’s Open Restaurants program, which was started to help restaurants through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Outdoor dining has transformed New York City and saved 100,000 jobs during the pandemic, but we cannot allow abandoned dining sheds to litter our streets,” Mayor Eric Adams said. “These deserted dining sheds have become eyesores for neighbors and havens for rats, and we are going to tear them down.”

The new initiative is being spearheaded by Deputy Mayor Meera Joshi with a task force led by the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) and the New York City Department of Sanitation. Another 37 dining sheds are being investigated for violating Open Restaurants program guidelines.

The mayor is urging New Yorkers to call 311 to report abandoned outdoor dining structures. In addition, the city will also investigate dining structures violating Open Restaurants program guidelines.

City officials will inspect the structures and issue notices to restaurant owners before they are removed. The DOT will store the structure for 90 days — to give the owner time to reclaim it — before destroying it.

“With this initiative, we are also taking the essential step towards a permanent Open Restaurants program that all New Yorkers can be proud of every day. I want to say it loud and clear: Outdoor dining is here to stay,” Adams said.

However, a lawsuit against the city is slowing down the process to make the Open Restaurants program permanent. “The council can’t move forward on the plan until the litigation resolves,” said New York City Council member Julie Menin.

Diem Boyd is among the New York City residents suing the city over the dining sheds. Boyd said the dining sheds breed illegal activity, in addition to being rat-infested eyesores in her Lower East Side neighborhood.

“The emergency is over. It’s time to remove the sheds from the streets,” Boyd said.

However, outdoor dining has been popular among restaurants and customers. A recent Regional Plan Association survey found that 86% of New Yorkers support the outdoor dining program.

“The question isn’t even so much, ‘A table for two, inside or outside?’ It’s like, ‘Great, I’ll meet you outside.’ People in the summertime are really looking forward to sitting outside,” said Queen’s Room owner Antonia Joannides.

Restaurant owners have worked with city inspectors since sidewalk and curbside dining was expanded by the emergency order during the early days of the pandemic.

“The mayor just said in his press conference ‘we’re going to have clear guidelines for what that is.’ That could be totally different from what this is now, so let’s see,” Joannides said.

City leaders envisioned establishing the guidelines for the permanent Open Restaurants program by this fall, opening applications for the program this winter and launching the program in 2023.

In a statement, NYC Hospitality Alliance Executive Director Andrew Rigie said they will continue working with the city to develop a permanent system. 

“It’s great news that Mayor Adams announced the City will remove abandoned outdoor dining structures that shuttered during the pandemic and will focus on revitalizing or removing dilapidated ones as we transition out of the temporary emergency program that saved countless small businesses and jobs,” Rigie said. “We look forward to working with the City to develop a permanent outdoor dining system that will be beautiful and sustainable for the future.”