The New York City Council passed two bills last week easing fines for code violations in an effort to provide relief for small businesses and to help the city’s economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Small businesses have suffered tremendously for 16 months following the financial fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Randy Peers, president and CEO, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce said.
“These locally owned businesses provide essential services and create jobs in our communities, and legislation to reduce or eliminate fines to ensure their recovery is critically important.”
The first bill, sponsored by Bronx Democrat Mark Gjonaj, creates a temporary 90 day amnesty program, which would allow for businesses to receive a 75% discount on any unpaid fines issued after Governor Andrew Cuomo called for a state of emergency on March 7, 2020. In addition, any unpaid fines dating back eight years would be eligible for a 25% discount, with all interest and late fees waived entirely.
Once the amnesty program is finished, it will be eligible to be extended for another 90 days. Up to $40 million in unpaid fines are expected to be collected through this program, according to city officials.
The second bill, sponsored by Bronx Democrat Vanessa Gibson, aims at more permanent changes to the City’s system of collecting fines for code violations. The bill would change 185 code violations to lower fine amounts, while also creating a “cure period” in which businesses would have the opportunity to fix whatever issue they have before facing any fines.
For example, businesses currently face fines for not properly labeling their garbage bins. Under the new legislation, they would be allowed to fix the mistake without facing penalties, while still facing fees for repeat offenses.
These bills come at a time when many small businesses are struggling in the fallout of the pandemic. Minority-owned businesses in particular have been hit hard. A recent survey from LISC NYC, an organization that supports the equitable development of historically disadvantaged communities in the city, found that nearly three quarters of minority-owned small businesses in New York City fear they will close without financial relief.
Supporters of the bills hope that tackling fines and fees will help provide that relief.
“Our small businesses are hurting as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and are in desperate need of financial relief,” Councilmember Gibson said. “Instead of imposing punitive fines on them, we must educate them about the process and provide them with the necessary support to continue to operate their business successfully.”
“We urge Mayor de Blasio to sign the bill into law immediately,” Peers said.