Business owners in Brooklyn are stepping up and asking City Hall for a new legislation on violations and regulations regarding awnings and other business signs. Since 2015, over 100 business owners near the Fulton Street Corridor have faced fees of between $5,000 and $20,000 for sign and awning violations.
While business owners say they can’t afford these massive fines, city officials still believe these building codes help to protect New Yorkers from being harmed by potentially dangerous signs.
“These fines are very high and represent a big danger to our small businesses,” explained Chandra Haram, the owner of Mellor’s Drug Store at 3343 Fulton St. “We are struggling to pay our rent.”
And seeing as how approximately half of all customers who choose to enter a business do so due to the signs outside of the establishment, business owners are worried that they’ll lose customers when they’re forced to take down their signs.
Because the regulations regarding signs are complex, business owners have asked to have legislation approved that would require the city to repay owners who have since fixed their signs after being fined. Additionally, the legislation would include awning rule training for small business owners and take a closer look at the effectiveness of awning and sign regulations currently in place.
But according to Patrick Wehle, an assistant commissioner with the Department of Buildings, by enforcing these strict building codes, they’re protecting people passing by from dangerously installed signs.
The bill, sponsored by City Council member Rafael Espinal aims to lessen the fines on local business owners for signs and awnings. The bill would wipe out the fines business owners received in the past two years.
“The fines that the business owners are facing are more than what a lot of them are paying in rent monthly,” Espinal said. “That’s completely debilitating to immigrant- and minority-owned small businesses.”
However, this bill supposedly threatens to once again litigate a conflict between private and public sectors. In 2003, controversy and concerns began when the Department of Buildings attacked commercial strips with tickets and fines for their signage. Even then, council members fought back. They obligated the city to begin an outreach program that would educate business owners on the regulations in place, rather than ticket them without warning.
With there being more than 300 bills currently waiting for Senate action, it’s no surprise that bills like this one have come up before. The new bill is asking the city to reconsider the strict building codes currently in place.
While the bill is still being discussed, business owners hope the city signs onto a course of action that will lessen the harsh fines and regulations regarding signage.