City Agents Duck the ‘Billion Dollar Mystery’

City Agents Duck the ‘Billion Dollar Mystery’
Department of Buildings Representative David Nussbaum addresses members of the Madison Marine Homecrest Civic Association.

MARINE PARK – City officials fell short on answers yesterday in response to what some Marine Park community members are calling  “a billon dollar mystery.”

Members of the Madison Marine Homecrest Civic Association gathered at the Carmine Caro Community Center in Marine Park for their monthly meeting in hopes of uncovering why the city has not collected on over $750 million of unpaid property violations. As it stands, the Department of Finance is responsible for collecting Department of Building fines.

The meeting comes eight months after Mayor de Blasio held a town hall in neighboring Sheepshead Bay, at which time he instructed city agencies to look into the mounting number of unpaid property fines. The issue at hand seemed to be the City’s inability to identify owners of properties:

Sheelah Feinberg, the New York City’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the DOF said yesterday that state laws hamper the agency’s ability to pursue outstanding fines because of a state law that imposes a time limit on when the city can collect the bad debt.

“Savvy building developers here throughout the five boroughs know that after eight years, when the statute of limitation expires, we can’t take action,” said Feinberg.

Sheelah Feinberg, the New York City’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the DOF address members of the Madison Marine Homecrest Civic Association.

But Ed Jaworski, President of the Madison Homecrest Civic Association and Judy Baron of the Manhattan Beach Community Group said they were unable to find the New York state statute. Nor could Feinberg of the DOF disclose the details of the law, even after receiving several earlier requests on the matter.

“I could have predicted it at the beginning of the meeting that I wasn’t going to get an answer to my question,” said Baron who is questioning the eight-year rule. “If it’s a state law I want to know what the law is, when it was passed and where did it come from.”

Baron made one last attempt at delivering her question when she hand-delivered a note to Feinberg while the city agent was addressing the audience.

The Office of Administrative Trials and hearings has written off over $230 million in property fines as a result of the eight-year rule, and some attendees said that the write-offs were doled out to developers specifically.

“The bottom line is that the poor man is getting hit by the buildings department and these large real estate developers are walking away without fines,” said Liz Morrissey who lives in Marine Park.  “Yet they keep increasing our taxes. You think I can go eight years without paying fines if I have an illegal house?”

Brooklyn leads in the number of outstanding summonses with 44,427, which total over $247 million in fines issued before Aug. 1, 2017. Queens clocked in second highest in fines but surpassed Brooklyn in dollar amount to total $300 million in outstanding fines. The remaining boroughs, Staten Island, Manhattan and the Bronx combined have $204 million in penalties – $40 million fewer than Brooklyn.

Feinberg credited the amnesty program for the sharp increase in fine revenue between 2015 and 2016. DOF collected over $90 million in 2016  ––  $30 million more than the previous year. However, Feinberg could not speak to the difference in revenue had the same property owners not received deep discounts under the amnesty program.

But Feinberg did say they would no longer fulfill merger or apportionment request for property owners with outstanding ECB judgments.

David Nussbaum from the Department of Buildings was also in attendance and informed the audience about new measures the agency is taking towards fine collection. Nussbaum said DOB is no longer issuing permits to landlords who have upwards of $25,000 in outstanding Environmental Control Board fines. Also, the city serves $1,500 civil penalties to landlords who do not certify that they have corrected a violation.

But without proper enforcement from the DOF, the additional fines only add to the mounting penalties.

No public officials attended the meeting, but U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke, State Sen. Golden, Assemblymember Jamie Williams and City Councilmember Jumaane Williams sent representatives.


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