The City Council voted unanimously today to extend a moratorium on sign violation fines that briefly sent small retail business owners into a panic in 2018.
The new bill adds an additional two years to a recently expired two-year moratorium on Department of Buildings (DOB) violations related to accessory signs. It also revives a temporary DOB assistance program designed to help businesses owners properly install signs outside their storefronts, and increases the waiver covering installation costs to 100%.
The bill’s prime sponsor, Queens Council Member Bob Holden, said the extension would assist small businesses “in a real, quantifiable way that helps them save some money.”
“Many owners and employees of small businesses are immigrants, working hard for their piece of the American Dream,” Holden said on Twitter. “Proprietors of small storefronts struggle to feed their families and pay for things for their children. This law will set aside a little more money for those needs.”
The vote was 50-0; one Council Member, Karen Koslowitz of Queens, was absent.
In the fall of 2018, a sudden increase in the issuance of violations related to improperly installed signs, which resulted in fines of $6,000 or more, sent retail businesses scrambling. Many preemptively replaced their own signs, some decades old, for fear of being hit with a fine; in doing so, they nevertheless often incurred expenses of several thousand dollars.
A clear explanation for the sudden increase in the complaints that led to violations was never found, but some store owners and elected officials suspected an organized campaign was behind the calls, possibly by local sign-hanging businesses, which often targeted several businesses in the same area on a single day.
Small business owners rallied on the steps of City Hall, arguing they were blindsided by sign and awning violations that had not previously been enforced so intensely.
In response, the City Council established a two-year moratorium on the issuance of such violations in 2019.