JACKSON HEIGHTS — On Roosevelt Avenue, from 74th Street to Junction Boulevard and beyond, lampposts and payphones are plastered with photocopied, hand-written fliers, often advertising in Spanish one- or two-bedroom apartments for rent.
The DIY-style signs are taped to anything bolted to the ground, often replacing older signs that are shoved into crevices, thrown on the street or piled into garbage cans.
Sometimes, one sign will cover up another, in an attempt to be the most visible advertisement in any given spot.
But apartment seekers who rip off one of the little slits of paper on the bottom of the flier and call the attached phone number likely won't find a homeowner or a person looking for a roommate.
Instead, they'll get a realtor, or in some cases, a scam artist, local officials say.
"I have seen people become victims of immigration fraud. I have seen people become victims of real estate fraud," said City Councilman Daniel Dromm. "These guys prey on the immigrant community because they're not aware, sometimes, of the existing law."
Now Dromm and City Councilman Mark Weprin, who represents eastern Queens, are trying to hit these businesses where it hurts: in the wallet.
Currently, the Sanitation Department fines people and businesses committing their first offense as little as $75 for illegal posting, a department spokeswoman said. Under new legislation proposed by Weprin, the fine would be tripled, to $225.
Often, residents are fooled into believing these fliers are coming from individuals rather than brokers, Dromm's office said. Calling one phone number might take you to "Ricky Rentals," where the person who picked up a recent call by a reporter said that an apartment advertised was "already rented," but tried making an appointment to view other units.
Other realtors, like "Mayito Realty," hung up the phone after questions about their practices.
The Sanitation Department has a staff of 25 agents who patrol the city searching for illegal postings and handing out fines, the spokeswoman said. They also field 311 calls from local residents.
The problem, according to local activists and politicians, is that those posting the signs are ignoring the law, using the fines as a cost of doing business.
"You can go take all the signs down one day, then some some miscreant can come by and say, 'Wow, I have all this vacant space to put my signs up,'" said Frederick Kress, president of the Queens Coalition for Parks and Green Spaces.
Recently, Dromm had a group of volunteers canvass the area pulling the signs off of public property. The result — nine garbage bags filled with paper — adorned the table at a Tuesday press conference about the issue.
"This type of litter has become a huge problem all over Queens," Dromm said. "You either have to live with this, or do something on your own."
But Weprin said that, ultimately, the Sanitation Department would have to pick up the slack.
"We need Sanitation to enforce the law, currently," Weprin said. "They have not done a good job of that."