New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has met with small business owners across New York City, and heard countless concerns about how small businesses are unfairly targeted by city regulators for trivial violations and fines. Enforcement and adjudication procedures can vary greatly from agency to agency. For instance, while the environmental Control Board, Department of Transportation, and DOHMH have improved the ability for individuals to contest violations online, the Department of Consumer Affairs requires mandatory appearance and in-person submission of evidence. Similarly, agencies differ in their practice of issuing fines. Business owners have contacted the Public Advocate’s office to report instances of DCA investigators issuing fines without giving businesses the chance to quickly correct low-level risks. The following example was cited in the Public Advocate’s Red Tape Report on Small Businesses:
“Mr. Cajamarca opened a neighborhood services and technology store, Jilguero Multiservices, along Irving Avenue in Brooklyn six months ago. Mr. Cajamarca, who is a member of Small Business United—a project of Make the Road NY—is the sole employee and speaks limited English. His business grosses $120 per day. Two months after opening, the store was robbed, and Mr. Cajamarca was forced to pay $200 to purchase a replacement cash register. While the stolen register had been programmed to print his business’s information on receipts, the replacement register was not—a fact of which Mr. Cajamarca was not aware. During an October inspection, DCA fined Mr. Cajamarca $250 for failing to print the name of his business on receipts. As soon as it was brought to his attention, Mr. Cajamarca immediately fixed the violation—but he now faces a choice between losing a day’s revenue to attend a DCA hearing or paying the fine.
These examples are bolstered by department fine revenue figures. A review of the adopted New York City budgets from 2002 to the present show a clear increase in the total revenue collected through fines—this number has increased from $467 million in 2002 to $793 million in 2011. The largest share of this revenue stream (76% in FY 2011) comes from the Department of Finance, which collects fines originally issued by a wide range of City agencies.
To read the original report, click here.