ECB Upholds $40,000 in Fines for Illegal Signs on Bodega

175 Grand Street, Brooklyn

Company argued that two promotional contest signs installed at bodega were accessory signs. On September 9, 2010, the City’s Department of Buildings issued four notices of violation to Contest Promotions NY LLC for two signs installed at the New Grocery and Deli located at 175 Grand Street in Brooklyn. Contest Promotions is a promotional company that works with businesses to promote contests and sweepstakes. The sign featured advertisements for the Nikita television program and the Topman clothing store. Directly above the advertisements, each sign featured small text for a promotional contest that read, “Free posters, while supplies last – Enter here to win great prizes.” Two NOVs charged violations of the City’s zoning resolution for installing advertising signs in an area where such signs were prohibited. The other two NOVs charged violations of the City’s building code for illegally installing signs without a building permit while acting as an unregistered outdoor advertising company.

At a hearing, Contest Promotions argued that the signs were accessory because the lettering at the top drew observers into the bodega. An ALJ ruled against Contest Promotions, finding that the promotional text was so small that it was inconsequential. The ALJ found that the signs fell within the definition of an advertising sign as defined in the City’s building code and the zoning resolution. Contest Promotions appealed to the Environmental Control Board, arguing that the signs generated traffic into the bodega and were therefore accessory signs.

The Board affirmed the decision of the ALJ and sustained each $10,000 fine ($40,000 in total).  Contest Promotions failed to establish that the promotional signs were incidental to the bodega’s business, and therefore were correctly classified as advertising signs in violation of the zoning resolution. According to the Board, even if signs had been deemed accessory, the building code did not distinguish between accessory and advertising signs when determining whether a business can be defined as an outdoor advertising company. Therefore, it would not be a defense to the building code violations that the cited signs were accessory signs.

NYC v. Contest Promotions NY LLC, ECB Appeal No. 1200088 (June 28, 2012) (Attorneys: Lindsay Garroway, for Contest Promotions; Susan Huot, for DOB).

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