The City Council passed legislation today to protect small business owners from the recent surge in fines for awning and signage violations issued by the Department of Buildings.

Sponsored by East New York Councilmember Rafael Espinal, the Awning Act creates a two-year moratorium on fines, provides complete financial relief to businesses with outstanding violations and lowers the permit fees for installing new signs.

“Unfair penalties have burdened small businesses to such an extent that some were worried they would have to close for good,” said Espinal. “Today, we are changing that and delivering relief to our small business community.”

Councilmember Rafael Espinal. Photo credit: Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats

The councilman began working on the legislation when businesses in his district suddenly found themselves slapped with $6,000 fines for small issues such as improper font size or listing of phone numbers on signs they hung up years ago.

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

“The fine combined with the price tag of a new sign can be devastating to a business’ bottom line,” said Espinal. “As the sudden uptick in violations came to the awareness of my colleagues, we quickly worked together to institute a two-year moratorium on any sign violations. Businesses will not have to feel the burden of these fines while we work on comprehensive reform to end this unjust practice.”

The new legislation will waive existing fines and create an expedited, streamlined process for business owners to put up new signs at reduced fees.

Additionally, a task force of small business owners, city agencies and chambers of commerce will investigate any potential predatory practices that might explain the concentration of violations in certain areas, stated Espinal. Meanwhile, the DOB, the Department of City Planning and the Department of Small Business Services are tasked to develop outreach programs that will educate small businesses owners about signage regulations and zoning variances to help them avoid future fines.

The bill now heads to the mayor’s desk for his signature.

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