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Council pushing to end pricey business sign fines

BAY RIDGE, Brooklyn — Small business owners across the city said the 311 system is being weaponized against them and costing them thousands of dollars.

Complaints about local store-front awnings and signs have shot through the roof; it is a permitting process few are aware of.

“A $6,000 fine is pretty excessive for small business,” said one of the owners of United Home Center on 3rd Avenue in Bay Ridge.

The hardware store’s awning, which has been up for decades, was — unbeknownst to them — not properly permitted.

“These awnings have been up since we took over the stores,” the owners said. “It’s a big chunk of money one time and any other department, like sanitation, would give your warning.”

It is the same story all along 3rd Avenue— where multiple businesses have been ticketed.

The Department of Buildings said they only enforce sign and awning permits after there’s been a complaint. Those complains have skyrocketed— more than doubling in the last year— tripling to more than 1,000 in Brooklyn alone.

Store owners, some of whom are even taking down their awnings as a precaution, think some contractor may be looking to stir up business by filing complaints against entire city blocks.

In response to all the hefty fines, affected business owners are rallying with council members to legislatively demand the DOB put a moratorium on the penalties.

The long term goal is to create a system that gives fair warning to business owners about a sign violation— and reduce the fine to a more reasonable amount where there is a safety concern.

“Let’s stop fighting these businesses and let’s start working with them to make sure they are complying with the law,” said Councilman Rafael Espinal, (D) Cypress Hills.

In a statement the DOB said:

“In general, we inspect business signs when we receive complaints from the public about them. We are not targeting businesses around Brooklyn for sign-enforcement efforts; rather, our inspectors typically investigate sign complaints in a neighborhood when they are in the area for other matters. There is nothing wrong with an owner wanting to hang a sign outside their business to draw in customers, but for the safety of pedestrians walking underneath, it must be permitted by the city and put up by a licensed professional who can do the work properly.”
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