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City Says Small Business Fines Have Been Cut in Half

By Jeff Mays | July 31, 2015 5:48pm
 A small business, Midtown Fish & Meat Market in East Harlem. The city says it has cut fines against small businesses like this one in half.
A small business, Midtown Fish & Meat Market in East Harlem. The city says it has cut fines against small businesses like this one in half.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

EAST HARLEM—Fines against small businesses have been cut in half, city officials said Friday.

Following complaints from small businesses owners that they faced hefty fines and violations during the Bloomberg Administration, Mayor Bill de Blasio made a campaign promise to reduce them.

Fines have dropped to $15.7 million from $32.5 million and the number of violations declined to 11,923 from 19,409.

“A thriving city of diverse neighborhoods depends on small businesses to create jobs, serve their communities, and enrich the city’s economy," de Blasio said in a statement. "Small businesses need support and resources – not onerous fines for violations that don’t pose any risk to consumers."

The city was able to accomplish the reductions by first issuing warning for minor violations that pose no harm to consumers, offering lower settlement amounts and decreasing the number of counts on each violation.

For example, the Department of Consumer Affairs issued 3,632 "curable violations" last year that allowed first-time violators to correct signage violations. The "curable violations" led to 70 percent more in restitution for customers.

The city also began reducing the burden on areas that were being over inspected. Before the use of a mapping program was implemented, 40 percent of inspections were done at stores that had recently been inspected. Afterward, the total dropped to 3 percent.

DCA Commissioner Julie Menin said the reductions saved small businesses owners $5 million.

Business groups across the city, including the Partnership for New York City, applauded the changes.

Nancy Ploeger, president of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement that she wanted to see "further decreases," but approved of the effort to "address nuisance fines."

Others were more cautious.

"It's definitely a step in the right direction but there is so much more that needs to be done," Raphael Benavides, president of the East Harlem Merchants Association, which represents 300 businesses, said in an interview.

"It just had become ridiculous the way the city was treating small businesses," he continued. "It seemed like small businesses had become a source of revenue for the city and they kept going to that well over and over again."

Benavides said small businesses need help in quickly addressing fines and navigating the maze of city agencies.

"A lot of my small businesses have a hard time getting permits or clearing up fines and they feel the city is not helping but is nurturing this 'us against them' mentality," said Benavides.

As part of the fine reduction effort the city launched an online tool that allows businesses to learn how to comply with city codes and regulations and avoid the most common fines.