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Juniper Park seeks sting for unpaid fines to DOB

Photo by Sarina Trangle
By Sarina Trangle

The Juniper Park Civic Association says it is time the city abandon its tactic of trying to fine landlords who fail to address building violations.

The civic association sent a slew of photos and a memo to the de Blasio administration outlining properties the association said have racked up thousands of dollars in fines for city Department of Building violations yet are not compelled to address the infractions.

At the association’s Feb. 27 meeting, Juniper Park Civic Association President Robert Holden held up enlarged photos of properties with graffitied commercial vehicles parked in the yard or a fence towering above a residential street.

“DOB is doing its job,” he said, emphasizing that many landlords had been fined for the infractions. “We’re calling on the mayor and the Department of Finance to go after these guys.”

For instance, the owner of 57-65 75th St., near the Elmhurst-Maspeth border, has four open violations with the city Environmental Control Board and $6,100 in unpaid fines. Yet the association said the same commercial trucks that were sited in all four infractions for a violation of the residential zoning code remain a common sight.

Holden said ideally the city would hire contractors to go in and fix infractions and then bill owners for the work.

De Blasio’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

The Juniper Park leader said the mayor should get the city Department of Finance more involved, possibly by going after violators’ assets or portions of their paychecks.

The city agency attempts to collect on unpaid fines by sending notices and informing people that fees for missing hearings and interest accrue when debts are ignored, according to Owen Stone, a department spokesman.

He said the department may also partner with collection agencies and try to freeze bank accounts or seize other assets.

Finance, however, can only take out a lien on properties with building violations if the city Department of Housing steps in because an owner has failed to remedy Class C violations, which are handed out for hazards such as the presence of lead-based paint or lack of heat, hot water or electricity.

If Housing contracts with companies to address Class C violations, outstanding bills may be attached to a lien.

Stone said the city does bundle unpaid DOB violation fines with unpaid tax and water bills if a lien is taken out on the property, but the city cannot just take out a lien on money owed to DOB.

“That would require a change in the law,” he said.

Stone said city laws offer property owners opportunities to challenge violations. He said once DOB issues a violation, owners may challenge it at the Environmental Control Board.

If owners do not show up at the hearing or pay any resulting penalties, Stone said the city begins collection efforts.

But if owners indicate they were unaware of the violation, they are permitted to take the matter back to the Environmental Control Board one final time and challenge the violations.

“You don’t get to be unaware twice, though,” Stone said.

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at strangle@cnglocal.com.

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