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City Should Overhaul Complex Street Vendor Laws, Police Say

Food carts and trucks have become increasingly dominant on Manhattan Streets.
Food carts and trucks have become increasingly dominant on Manhattan Streets.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

GREENWICH VILLAGE — Police told SoHo residents fed up with the food trucks and carts that crowd their streets that City Hall needs stricter rules for regulating street vendors, including steeper fines.

Vendors who violate the city's laws now face fines of $50, which many vendors see as a "cost of doing business," said Lt. Dan Albano, an NYPD lawyer.

"The summonses being issued to food vendors right now are almost meaningless," Albano told frustrated residents this week at a Community Board 2 meeting that drew NYPD officers from police headquarters and SoHo's two affected precincts.

Albano added that the city also needs to clarify the tangle of widely misunderstood rules that govern street vendors.

Three separate agencies currently oversee vendors, each with a different set of regulations. The NYPD enforces where trucks and carts can set up; the Health Department monitors sanitation practices; and the Department of Environmental Protection checks whether trucks and carts threaten air quality. 

"I can explain Miranda rights … and have more confidence that you will understand when you leave the room than I would about the vending laws," Albano told residents.

Albano said police and city officials are "working on a solution in the next few months," but he declined to elaborate.

SoHo residents have long complained that food trucks and carts litter neighborhood streets as their engines and generators spew smoke and shake apartments, in some places for 24 hours a day.

And they claim the problem is getting worse.

Local resident Pier Consagra said he counted 117 food and non-food vendors on Broadway between East Houston and Grand streets on a recent Saturday.

"We have had a huge influx of food trucks in the last month," resident Pete Davies agreed.

The First and Fifth precincts — which cover the west and east sides of Broadway, respectively — conduct joint operations every weekend, issuing 60 to 80 summonses to vendors, said First Precinct Lt. Denise Connolly.

Yet a mid-May crackdown on SoHo vendors, in which vendors' carts and merchandise were confiscated, yielded fines of no more than $50, Connolly acknowledged.

"We're talking about something that is laborious, time-consuming and costs a lot money," Albano said of vendor enforcement.

Still, residents said the city should do a better job enforcing current policies — as it fixes those that don't work.

"We've got lousily written laws," resident Maury Schott said, "and we need to fix the laws."