City Council Passes Awnings Act, What You Need To Know If You Have A Storefront

Signs were taken down throughout the city by business owners fearing fines. (Photo: Justin Mitchell/BKLYNER).

City Councilmember Rafael Espinal’s Awnings Act overwhelmingly passed the City Council Wednesday, providing relief to small businesses throughout Brooklyn, especially Sunset Park, Ditmas Park, and Bay Ridge.

46 council members voted for the bill, including Espinal, Justin Brannan, and Carlos Menchaca, who were vocal about the sudden wave of fines that swept the city last year, resulting in many small businesses removing their signs.

“I am incredibly proud to have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our small business community to create the Awnings Act,” Espinal said in a press release. “Unfair penalties have burdened small businesses to such an extent that some were worried they would have to close for good. Today, we are changing that, and delivering relief to our small business community.”

According to Espinal’s office, the final Awnings Act will:

  • create a 2-year moratorium on new fines for signage
  • rescind all outstanding signage fines
  • give businesses that have already paid fines a discount on future signage permits
  • reduce the fees for signs and awning permits going forward
Councilmembers, business owners and others rally in front of City Hall December 5. (Photo: Justin Mitchell, BKLYNER).

The bill would also require the Department of Buildings, Small Business Services and the Department of City Planning to put together an education program to make sure business owners understand the laws and regulations surrounding signs.

“If you have a violation and haven’t paid the penalty, don’t. You are no longer obligated to do so, and can resolve the violation without paying,” Menchaca said in his own statement.  “Moreover, the City now has an obligation to set up an outreach program to educate you about how to get your signs into compliance.”

“This bill will help small businesses with signs they thought were perfectly legal but have suddenly been targeted with exorbitant fines,” Brannan said in a statement.

Many signs throughout the city are not up to code, but went unnoticed until a mysterious wave of 311 complaints began sweeping the city last year, causing tickets as expensive as $6,000 to be issued, mainly to small mostly immigrant-run businesses like bodegas and take-out restaurants. Fined businesses also have to pay to hang a new sign, which can add thousands more dollars to the original fine.

The bill was originally expected to be passed in December, but hit a few snags requiring changes.  Espinal originally sought full refunds for already-fined businesses, but that was not possible due to regulations against the city giving gifts to private entities.

An earlier version of the bill also allowed any general contractor to begin hanging signs, instead of the small number of city-licensed sign hangers. Sources tell Bklyner the city administration wanted to include that provision, but the Sheet Metal Workers 137 Union, as well as several non-union sign hangers, voiced objections to the provision, citing public safety concerns, leading to the delay.  (This was first reported by Kings County Politics).

Councilmembers felt it was best to pass the bill without the provision in order to stop any further violations from happening.

“We had several discussions with them and it became clear that there is a significant need for opening the market, but including the general provision clause was not a thorough enough clause to effectively address the issue,” Caitlin Kelmar, Espinal’s legislative director, told Bklyner.

That and other issues will be addressed by an interagency task force to “explore issues related to accessory sign regulations in the building code and zoning resolution,” as well as evaluate the rules involved in obtaining a sign-hanger’s license.

The task force will have 17 members from a wide variety of organizations, including labor unions, and has a year to investigate these questions and then will submit a report to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Council.

Only Queens Democrat Daniel Dromm voted against the bill, though Brooklyn CM Kalman Yeger did abstain. (We asked Yeger’s office why, and will update if we hear back).

Once de Blasio signs the bill, the moratorium will take effect immediately.

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Justin Mitchell

Justin Mitchell

I was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska. My life's journey has led me to Colorado, Oregon, Prague, Cambodia, South Korea, Chicago and Washington, DC. Now on my second Brooklyn stint and eager to tell some good stories.


  1. Wow! I wasn’t aware of the signage requirements!
    What exactly is the problem?
    Are the stores required to be more uniform on the block?

  2. Wow really, i’ve never seen such disgusting awnings as what owners have today, some paint over awnings from previous owners, some put up the nasties awnings and some put up home made awnings how disgusting is that, Their stores smell, the walls are dirty, the floor tiles are falling apart then they lay down some other style that doesn’t match what’s down there already, their fruit stands are nasty smelly dirty streets, the throw dirty water into the street then the streets smell awful, they make the neighborhood look like the slums, there are also home owners that don’t keep up with the exterior of their homes, the fence paint are peeling, their yards look like a dump yard, southern brooklyn. Bensonhurst, gravesand used to be a nice looking place, now we don’t bother to go to 86th st cause its nasty up ther and we don’t bother with ave. U, we hop in our car and head out to shop some where else. The neighborhood has decline, do speak about that also to your merchants.

  3. So only the 43 listed license sign hanger are allow to legally put back the sign up for the entire city? This is a monopoly created for them.

  4. Another meaningless law in place in NYC to hurt the little guy, like me, just trying to make a decent living. Work hard, pay taxes, follow the rules and it only comes back to bite you in the butt. What’s next? No neon lights in the window because it’s distracting to motorists? Thanks New York City. For nothing.

  5. Why do you need a 17 person task force to “explore issues related to accessory sign regulations…”?! This seems like yet another time waster disguised as helping the independent merchant.

  6. This explains why the sign disappeared on the 99 cent store on Fulton St near Franklin Ave.

    Across the street from that 99 cent store, for months there was an awning half hanging off of shuttered a store front. If a strong gust of wind swept through at the right time and could have seriously injured someone. Hopefully the moratorium doesn’t allow the slackers ease back into their old ways.

  7. To Nana:

    I am puzzled about your remarks concerning 86th Street. Where are there green grocers? It’s mostly name-brand stores or local monuments like Century 21 and P.C. Richards. Who is throwing dirty water into the street? If in fact you do see a problem speak (politely) to the store owner first. That’s what civic-minded citizens do. As for the streets being dirty, that a city problem as the city sweeps the commercial areas – in my neighborhood daily. Perhaps speaking (again politely) to your Community Board might bring results.
    Your rant would have greater power if you could spell and punctuate your sentences.

  8. I’m on Myrtle and throop and just finished paying a $6,000 Vilation and another 6,000 to a sign company to take my sign off and get a permit to do so since it had lights on the sign ( awning) extremely sad (Deli) would be night to at least get back the 6k for the violation .

  9. The 86th street ‘new awnings’ are awful indeed from 19th ave to bay parkway, some are even just plastic hanging with string. No care or respect of their storefronts, decreases property value to the neighborhood. But then again you are pushing business out or not renewing leases, and leave open for these ‘quick and easy’ business that will probably be gone in 6 months anyways. Stop giving leashes to these scheming businesses , give to businesses with background check. There are at least 10 storefront empty for months, starting to look like detroit. Additonally there are ‘bussiness ‘ at are using as storage units and not really retail , see at bayparkway by bath ave, at least three from bayparkway to 15 ave on bath ave

  10. too bad – I was hoping more of those ugly plastic awnings would go for good. bring back some class!

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