BROOKLYN — Despite being out front handling Brooklyn residents’ confusion and outrage over a wave of signage violations sweeping the city in recent months, City Councilmembers Rafael Espinal and Carlos Menchaca both sponsored a bill last year that raised the penalty on exactly the kind of violation being issued by the Department of Buildings for signage, a bill that was approved by the Council almost unanimously last August.
Most of the signage violations the DOB has been issuing in recent months are for “work without a permit.”
This violation applies to a wide variety of construction work, including signs.
Specifically, the code says it is unlawful “to erect, install, alter, repair, or use or operate any sign” until “a written permit therefore shall have been issued by the commissioner.”
Signs do not require a permit if they are painted directly on the building, are less than 6 square feet in area, or are temporary.
Last year, both Espinal and Menchaca sponsored Local Law No. 156, which increased the penalty for work without a permit violations.
For buildings that are not one or two-family dwellings, the minimum penalty for this violation was increased from $5,000 to $6,000.
Espinal and Menchaca were far from outliers in supporting the bill.
The law passed the City Council on August 9, 2017 with a vote of 42-0, with six members absent, one on maternity leave and another on bereavement leave.
Espinal voted “Absent” and Menchaca voted “Affirmative.”
The bill’s primary sponsor was Antonio Reynoso. It was approved by Mayor Bill de Blasio on August 30, 2017. It took effect on June 18 of this year.
“Raising the work without a permit violation cost is a decision and law I stand by,” Espinal told Bklyner in a statement. “This bill was a part of a package of legislation that was meant to increase worker and public safety. Working without a permit, especially on construction sites, can be a fatal issue. However the Department of Buildings’ decision to wield this safety-centric law as a tool to burden small businesses is unjust.”
“The purpose of the bill was to improve public safety around construction sites and to stop bad actors from working without proper permits. It was never intended nor aimed at small businesses with improper signs or awnings,” Menchaca said in his own statement. “This crisis is exposing that our system overall is broken. We are working hard on a legislative fix to reorient it toward public safety.”
Both Espinal and Menchaca brought up a 2005 law requiring the DOB to institute an education program about signage laws after a similar crisis in the early 2000s.
“The fact that signs that have been up for decades are now receiving DOB violations only goes to show that this education program has failed,” Espinal said. “It’s perplexing to me that the DOB prioritizes fining businesses over educating them.”
Espinal told Bklyner on Wednesday that he hopes to wrap up his negotiations with de Blasio’s office in the next few days and to have his bill passed by the end of the year.
UPDATE at 2:35pm to reflect further clarification of his position on the law by Menchaca.
UPDATE at 3pm to reflect statement from Espinal and information about 2005 law.