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COVID-19 related budget cuts in the early days of the pandemic led to a reduction in sanitation services such as trash pick-ups, and changes to alternate side parking regulations. Such cuts overlapped with an increase in outdoor dining, and other shifting patterns of human behavior, resulting in spikes in complaints relating to street cleanliness and rat sightings.

On March 12, 2020, then Mayor de Blasio issued a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Alternate side parking (ASP) reductions led to cars remaining parked on streets for longer periods of time, reducing street sweepers’ ability to thoroughly clean the streets. This may have been a contributing factor to the increase in litter being reported throughout the City, which saw increases in 311 complaints for dirty street conditions and missed garbage collections between 2020 and 2022.

On May 1st, 2024, the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, chaired by Council Member Shaun Abreu, held an oversight hearing on Street Cleanliness in New York City. The committee will heard several bills on street cleanliness, seeking to address concerns pertaining to the removal of abandoned or derelict vehicles, frequency of emptying litter baskets, street cleanliness grading, dog waste bag dispensers, and establishing a rat contraceptive pilot program. The Council’s Data team gathered the following insights on street cleanliness in the City:

  • Most litter baskets don’t have any complaints at all, but a small percent of litter baskets are chronically receiving complaints – the top 1% of offending litter baskets comprise 48% of all complaints.
  • There are more 311 derelict vehicle and illegal dumping calls than OATH violations issued, while there were more OATH violations issued for dirty conditions than 311 calls made.
  • Using open data to gauge street cleanliness has its challenges. Population density and visibility affect what we see in sources like 311 requests and OATH violations. For commercial-related issues, violations are concentrated in outer boroughs, while complaints are concentrated in central Manhattan.

DSNY Litter Baskets

April 2024

OATH Violations

April 2023 – March 2024
for commercial-related issues

311 Service Requests

April 2023 – March 2024
for commercial-related issues

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Learn More About the Hearing

Street Cleanliness

The sanitary conditions of New York City’s streets has effects beyond general quality of life: during flash flood conditions like those experienced on September 1, 2021 when Tropical Storm Ida hit the City, significant amounts of litter floated with stormwater and swiftly clogged catch basins, exacerbating flooding issues in some neighborhoods, correlating with a large spike in catch basin complaints called into 311.

According to the Preliminary FY2024 Mayor’s Management Report, DSNY is “aggressively cleaning more parts of the City than ever before.” In addition, the Report boasts new requirements on businesses and small residential buildings to containerize trash when setting it on the curb for collection, the expansion of citywide residential curbside collection for organic waste, and the “highest uniformed headcount of any winter” allowing changes in the agency’s snow operations plans.

Several informational inputs potentially provide insight as to the cleanliness of NYC streets and sidewalks, such as Scorecard Ratings, 3-1-1 service requests, and regularly-maintained DSNY records such as street sweeper performance logs. The Mayor’s Office of Operations, in conjunction with DSNY, has a Scorecard Inspection program, which measures and reports on street and sidewalk cleanliness in the City. Prior to the suspension of the Scorecard Inspection program in the second half of FY2023, the reports published pursuant to this program listed the percent of acceptably clean streets and sidewalks, disaggregated by Community Board, Borough, and for Business Improvement Districts and provide ratings of “acceptably clean,” “not acceptably clean,” and “filthy” based on inspectors’ drive-by inspections of a sample of blocks. Legislation discussed at the May 1st hearing seeks to create “Sanitation Sections”, a subdivision of the Sanitation District, and create a cleanliness grade at this finer grain.


Evaluating Citywide Conditions


There are 24,681 litter baskets distributed across the city, with the highest density in areas with the most foot traffic. Litter baskets are for pedestrian use only (not household or commercial trash), and disposing anything besides light personal garbage can result in a ticket. While integral to street and sidewalk cleanliness, many litter baskets require more attention from DSNY so that refuse does not spill onto the streets and sidewalks.

Most litter baskets don’t have any complaints at all, but a small percent of litter baskets are chronically receiving complaints – the top 1% of offending litter baskets comprise 48% of all complaints, the top 3% of offending litter baskets comprise 78% of all complaints.

The litter baskets with the highest number of 311 complaints are in Brooklyn and Queens:

  • Willoughby Ave & Clermont Ave in Fort Greene has 55 complaints
  • Waverly Ave & Greene Ave in Clinton Hill has 35 complaints
  • Laurel Hill Blvd & 48th St in Sunnyside has 19 complaints
  • Willoughby Ave & Clinton Ave in Clinton Hill has 16 complaints
  • 103rd St & Northern Blvd in North Corona has 16 complaints
Litter Basket Complaints per Basket by Council District
April 1, 2023 – March 31, 2024


Comparing Sources on Street Cleanliness

Between April 2023 – March 2024, there were 97,873 OATH violations for dirty sidewalks, derelict vehicles, and illegal dumping. During the same time frame there were 154,401 complaints to 311 related to dirty conditions, derelict vehicles, and illegal dumping.

There were more OATH violations for dirty conditions than 311 complaints. On the other hand, there were fewer OATH violations than 311 complaints for both derelict vehicles and illegal dumping. It’s possible that derelict vehicles and illegal dumping cause more visible nuisances than dirty conditions, or are more likely to lead to repeat calls over the long term.

The differences between these two measures can be explained in different ways – 311 data may be missing information on important issues if nobody decided to call in about the problem, or 311 data may contain multiple complaints about the same issue (for example, there are likely duplicate complaints of the same abandoned or derelict vehicles if they are not immediately removed).

Street Cleanliness Categories: OATH vs 311
August 2022 – August 2023

Commercial Waste

On August 1, 2023, a new set of administrative rules aimed at managing food-related waste took effect. Under the new rules, food-related businesses such as restaurants, delis, grocery stores, caterers, and bodegas must put their refuse and organic waste in a secure lidded container, to be emptied by the businesses’ private waste carters. An additional rule, that went into effect on September 5, 2023, extends containerization requirements to all businesses with five or more locations, regardless of what they sell. New containerization rules endeavor to reduce the hazards of food waste — rodents, spills from broken bags, and insects, while improving the overall presentation of trash. Containerization, along with the imminent rollout of Commercial Waste Zones, will aid in improving street and sidewalk cleanliness efficiently.

Where NYC residents are making 311 service requests and where the City issues OATH violations tell different stories – sanitation enforcement is most prevalent in different areas than where complaints are most prevalent.


OATH Violations

This map shows the council district level number of commercial-related OATH violations per business. We have identified commercially-related violations by using all OATH violations at a commercial property, and removing violations that may have occurred there but are unrelated to the commercial unit (like abandoned vehicles or public urination). The most common commercially-related OATH violations are “failure to clean 18 inches into the street”, “dirty sidewalk”, incorrect “storage of receptacles” of various kinds, “improper receptacles” of various kinds, and “unlicensed vendors”. The violations specific to the new containerization laws (ie only the “receptacle” violations) have a similar spatial pattern to the map shown below.

The council districts below have the greatest number of violations per business, with over 50 OATH violations per business.

  • CD 14 (Kingsbridge, Fordham, University Heights, Mount Eden and Mount Hope),
  • CD 29 (Rego Park, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill, South Richmond Hill, Ozone Park), and
  • CD 11 (Bedford Park, Norwood, Kingsbridge Heights-Van Cortlandt Village, Kingsbridge, Riverdale-Spuyten Duyvil, Wakefield-Woodlawn, Woodlawn Cemetery, Van Cortlandt Park)
Commercial OATH Violations per Business by Council District
April 1, 2023 – March 31, 2024

311 Service Requests

This map shows the council district level number of commercial-related 311 complaints per business. As 311 complaints aren’t tied directly to a property, we use the categories of “Commercial Disposal Complaint”, and “Retailer Complaint” to identify potential commercial complaints.

It’s important to remember that 311 calls are not a reflection of where all problems in the city lie, but rather a measure of what people choose to submit service requests for, which is related to how prevalent the problem is, how long lasting the problem is, and if people have the time to engage with city about it.

The council districts below have the greatest number of complaints per business, with over six 311 complaints per business.

  • CD 33 (Greenpoint, Northside Williamsburg, South Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, DUMBO, Boerum Hill, Vinegar Hill, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Navy Yard),
  • CD 4 (Midtown South-Flatiron-Union Square, Midtown-Times Square, Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, Murray Hill-Kips Bay, East Midtown-Turtle Bay, United Nations, Upper East Side-Carnegie Hill), and
  • CD 2 (Greenwich Village, Lower East Side, East Village, Midtown South-Flatiron-Union Square, Gramercy, Murray Hill-Kips Bay)
Commercial 311 Complaints per Business by Council District
April 1, 2023 – March 31, 2024


To address these issues, the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will be hearing the following legislation:

  • Requires that the Department of Sanitation remove abandoned vehicles within 72 hours after becoming aware of them. Int 0003-2024
  • Requires that all public waste receptacles be emptied by the department of sanitation at least once per day. Int 0043-2024
  • Requires each Sanitation District to be divided into three or more Sanitation Sections, and a cleanliness grade to be assigned to a sample of streets within each Sanitation Section at least twice per month. Also requires the Department of Sanitation to use cleanliness grades to inform where to direct its resources. Int 0052-2024
  • Requires the Department of Sanitation to attach at least one time- and date-stamped photograph to notices of violation issued. Int 0102-2024
  • Requires the Department of Sanitation to install and regularly fill dog waste bag dispensers on or next to all public litter baskets on city streets. Int 0281-2024
  • Requires the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to establish a pilot program to deploy rat contraceptives. Int 0736-2024
  • Resolution calling upon the New York State Legislature to pass, and the Governor to sign, S.237-B, legislation to amend the Environmental Conservation Law, in relation to returnable bottles. Res 0174-2024

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Created by the NYC Council Data Team.