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Ten illegal things New Yorkers do all the time

Written by
Will Sabel Courtney

New Yorkers have always been known to play by their own rules—that's part of what makes this city such a wonderful place. Sure, we respect the spirit of the law, but as for all those little rules that seem to exist just to make life miserable? Fugeddaboutit. Thankfully, even though the NYPD has around 35,000 officers, they have enough to do that smaller violations usually slip through the cracks. In fact, happens so often, you might not even realize you've been engaging in illegal activity all these years...

Drinking in public
Cracking open a bottle of rose while lounging on the grass with your friends (or taking heavy swigs from a bottle of whisky while finally getting around to Infinite Jest—hey, no judgments here). It’s a New York City summer ritual—and it’s also illegal. Should the cops catch you, they can write you a $25 summons, thanks to a 1979 law passed to try and tamp down on the number of drunken bums staggering around parks and sidewalks. Thanks, Ed Koch. 

Walking through the park after 1am
Okay, so the bad old days are well in the past, but walking in the park late at night is still not the brightest idea—not just because you could get mugged, but because you also could wind up on the receiving end of a court summons.  NYC parks are technically only open between 6am and 1am, unless otherwise noted; just because the gates may be open doesn’t mean the park is, too. Get caught in the act, and you could wind up standing in front of a judge.

Owning a ferret
We’ll leave the question of “Why would someone want to own a giant weasel when there are thousands of cats and dogs in New York’s animal shelters waiting to find a good home?” to someone else (*cough* Giuliani *cough*). Some folks just want to have a ferret as a pet. NYC remains one of the handful of places in America where keeping one at home is illegal. Hopefully those flyers trying to find the owner of a found ferret in Brooklyn aren’t just the NYPD conducting a sting.

Living with two or more non-relatives.
Yup, believe it or not, it’s technically illegal for three or more people to share an apartment in New York unless they share blood or a name. Thankfully, the law is very, very rarely enforced—it’s usually implemented only a handful of times per year, usually as a result of a complaint from a neighbor or a housing inspection for an unrelated issue. Just consider it another good reason to be polite to the septuagenarian living next door to you and your three roommates in Greenpoint.

Hocking a loogie.
When you live in a city with eight million people, catching a cold or two every year is pretty much inevitable. Add in a million trees’ worth of pollen and two million motor vehicles tooting out pollutants, odds are good you’re gonna wind up with some post-nasal drip at some point. But while sucking it back and firing it onto the ground is awfully satisfying, it’s also verboten here in NYC under Article 181.03(a) of the city health code. So don’t spit—swallow instead.

Literally EVERYBODY in NYC does it (although only those of us with a sense of tradition still shout "I'm walkin' heah!" when cabbies almost hit us in the act), but that doesn't make it legal. Crossing without the light or where there isn't a crosswalk is still against the law. In fact, you oughta be extra careful when crossing without the light these days—jaywalking summonses have roughly quadrupled since Mayor de Blasio announced his Vision Zero campaign to eliminate traffic deaths. C'mon, Bill, we're walkin' heah! 

Wearing a mask on Halloween.
Somebody warn the Avengers—if you’re in New York, it’s illegal for two or more people to gather in public while wearing a mask or any other sort of identity-disguising item over your face. It dates back to an 1845 incident when farmers masked themselves in order to attack police over a dispute about wheat prices (ah, the good ol’ days), but the law was dusted off back in 2011 as a way to arrest Guy Fawkes-masked Occupy Wall Streeters. Here’s hoping the city never decides to crack down on Halloween. (Oh, and technically speaking, even if your costume doesn’t have a mask, you could still get nailed—the law also includes aiding or permitting people to be masked in public.)

Wearing yoga pants.
Sorry, Lululemon-loving ladies and SoulCyclettes—technically speaking, you shouldn’t be walking down the street in those pants, no matter how good you look in them. (And trust us, it looks great.) Here in NYC, it’s against the letter of the law for a woman to be on the street wearing “body hugging clothing.” So no yoga pants, no spandex, no Lycra, no booty shorts, no cocktail dresses…basically, none of the things that make straight men and lesbians glad they have peripheral vision. Blessedly, the NYPD is extraordinarily lax in enforcing this law.  

If a guy gets caught flirting in the Big Apple, he can be slapped with a $25 fine. Ostensibly, the measure was meant to curb unwanted flirting—the wording of the law goes on to prohibit men from turning around on the street and look at a woman “in that way”—but since it doesn’t spell out the unwanted part, maybe this is an opportunity to do some good. If the city could slap a $25 tax on every Tinder match, we’d have the Second Avenue Subway paid for by dinner.

Grilling with charcoal on the roof.
NYC’s laws on firing up the ol’ grille are oddly specific—for example, it’s illegal to have a standard propane grille on an apartment building’s outdoor space, but it is legal to have one for a one- or two-family home…but only if you have no more than two 20-lb propane tanks. Most of us tend to grill with charcoal, though…even though it’s actually against the law to do so on a balcony or roof. Backyards and terraces are okay, though, so long as you’re at least 10 feet away from the building. And you have to have immediate access to an extinguisher or a water supply, although that’s kind of a “no duh.”

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