Unbeknownst to them, the fliers violated Department of Sanitation (DSNY) regulations. DSNY counted the fliers, then, in a single action, fined Olton for each and every one.
He was hit with 116 violations and fines totaling almost $9,000.
Olton, who owns Paws and Claws on Grand Avenue with his wife, Simone, has paid the city over $1,000, but is struggling to pay the rest.
Olton said if he had been notified the fliers were a violation, he would have taken them down right away.
“It’s not fair,” Olton said of the fines. “Times are hard.”
DSNY enforcement officers routinely fine small businesses in New York City for violations under a confusing system elected officials argue needs reforming.
The system allows DSNY to write multiple tickets for a single, repeated offense, without serving the tickets individually at the time they are registered.
Business like Olton’s Paws and Claws pet shop, community groups, and individuals often find themselves stuck paying a fine several times over for a single offence they may not have known violated DSNY regulations in the first place.
In 2008, a troop of Boy Scouts volunteered for the Maspeth Memorial Day Parade by covering the neighborhood in parade posters. The city fined the three community groups hosting the parade $9,600.
“Everybody was trying to help the community,” said J.P. Di Troia, who was serving as the Maspeth Kiwanis Club president at the time his group was fined for the posters, along with the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce and Lions Club. “We got slapped in the face.”
And whereas the practice may have been merely frustrating before, multiple fines are now hurting small businesses trying to ride out the economic recession.
The issue has come to the attention of Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who announced proposed legislation changing the ticketing system at City Hall on October 7.
Council members Letitia James and Elizabeth Crowley joined Quinn to protest what they said are unfair ticketing practices.
Crowley is expected to introduce the new bill, known as the Protection Against Ticket Harassment (PATH) Act, at the council’s October 14th stated meeting.
PATH would require sanitation enforcement officers to issue tickets to individuals within five days of writing them.
Businesses and non-profit organizations served with multiple violations for public signs - and who have not received similar tickets in the past - would only have to pay a single fine.
“Presenting someone with thousands of dollars in fines before they’ve had a chance to fix the problem is simply irresponsible,” said Quinn. “With this bill, we’ll prevent small businesses from facing excessive penalties that can be particularly devastating in these tough economic times.”
Crowley said the bill would end a system wherein the middle class is often “unfairly punished just so the city can make a buck.”
James, whose district includes the pet store fined 116 times, called Olton’s experience “ridiculous and unreasonable,” and pledged to support the PATH legislation.
The proposed measure has also received support from a broad coalition of business and community organizations, including the chambers of commerce of all five boroughs.
Olton said he hopes the bill passes, though he isn’t sure how it might affect his outstanding fines of roughly $8,000. “I’m still looking for help,” he said.
Two years after they were issued, his fines remain too expensive to pay back