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Espinal Introduces Bill to Stop City's Ticketing Blitz Targeting Small Businesses

NYC small businesses have been hit with hefty fines for minor awning violations such as improper font size or phone number listings.
Councilmember Rafael Espinal introduced bill to halt the city's ticketing blitz on small businesses. Photo credit: NYC Council/ Twitter

Dozens of business owners joined Councilmember Rafael Espinal and Borough President Eric Adams on Wednesday at City Hall to protest against a surge in ticketing small businesses for awning violations.

Since November 2017, there have been 2,069 violations reported to 311 across the city. These calls typically resulted in the Department of Buildings sweeping entire neighborhoods.

According to Espinal, the lack of compliance can usually be chalked up to small issues such as improper font size or listing of phone numbers, yet result in thousands of dollars in fines, accompanied by a hefty price tag for the installation of a new sign.

"When small businesses were initially hit by a DOB sweep, we thought it was an isolated incident," said Espinal. "The fines were devastating enough that we immediately started working on legislation."

After dozens of businesses in East Brooklyn were issued crippling fines, Espinal introduced legislation that sees to waive them and create an expedited, streamlined process for business owners to put up new signs. The bill also calls for a yearlong moratorium on DOB's issuing of any business awning or sign violations and the establishment of a task force to coordinate outreach efforts to educate small business owners.

"As the bill gets more attention, we've come to learn that over 900 businesses from across the five boroughs have been affected," said Espinal. "More and more businesses have reached out to my office and their councilmembers, telling us about how the awning they have had for generations is now going to cost them tens of thousands of dollars to replace."

The bill is now being negotiated between the City Council and the de Blasio administration. Part of the discussion is also a possible financial assistance program to help business owners pay for the new signs.

"Brooklyn's BIDs have sounded the alarm on the chilling impact that expensive sign and awning fines have," said Adams. "We are hearing too many troubling stories of small businesses — many of them immigrant-run — that feel they have been unfairly targeted. The city must practice what it preaches in supporting small businesses, rather than suddenly deciding to ticket blitz a particular issue after decades of spotty enforcement."