Small business owners faced fines upwards of $15,000. In response to public outcry and community concerns on the hardships imposed on local businesses, on January 9, 2019, the New York City Council passed new legislation that would temporarily stop fines from violations issued to small businesses for failing to conform to their sign permits or those who did not have the proper permits at all. The Department usually gets 900 complaints a year, but that number doubled in 2018. By law, when the Department of Buildings is referred complaints through 311, they have to send an inspector out to the property.
The fines issued were upwards of $15,000, which scared enough small business owners in certain areas of the city to remove their signs completely before they too were hit with a violation. The bare storefronts were noticeable enough to prompt alarm to councilmembers.
The proposed bill established a two-year moratorium on issuing violations for accessory signs and established a waiver of all penalties for work without a permit that were issued in relation to the hanging of an accessory sign from December 28, 2017, going forward. An accessory sign is a non-advertising sign that is clearly incidental to a zoning lot’s principal use. Business owners who have been issued fines and not yet paid them can apply to the City to have them waived.
The hearing minutes also state that DOB and Department of Finance are required to put the public on notice of the existence of such programs, and to develop an educational program for the business community about accessory signs and related regulations.
“Laws like this one, that have received so much support from the community and my colleagues, make me proud to serve in the City Council. It took a network of New Yorkers to put together The Awnings Act, but the final product is a law that will forever protect mom & pops. It achieves unprecedented aid for small businesses that have been unfairly targeted, and represents the exact kinds of issues that a responsive Council should be resolving every day,” said Council Member Rafael Espinal, who was the prime sponsor of the bill.
On March 4, 2019, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the bill, stating “There are thousands of basement apartments in our City, but too many are illegal and unsafe. This program will help New Yorkers secure safe, affordable homes and give homeowners a new legal source of income.”
To read the text of the bill, click here.
By: Samantha Albanese. (Samantha Albanese is a CityLaw intern, and a New York Law School student, Class of 2019).