Illegal car dealers taking up space 1

Curbstoning, when a dealer poses as a private seller to sell a car, has caused problems in Corona, with space being taken by the illegal activity.

Councilman Francisco Moya (D-Corona) helped crack down on “curbstoning” when he was in the Assembly five years ago, with tougher penalties for unlicensed car dealing.

But curbstoning, when a dealer poses as a private seller to sell a car parked on the street, is still common in Corona.

“In some of these streets the residents were saying it was like a used car lot on a public street,” said Capt. Jonathan Cermeli, commanding officer of the 110th Precinct.

Moya wants it seen as a top priority.

“I’m always disappointed when I see that the quality-of-life issues that happen in my community don’t happen in more of the affluent areas,” he said, adding that the precinct has been extremely responsive.

Parking spots are being taken up on residential blocks by auto body shops, mechanic shops and secondhand used car dealers.

“We noticed a spike in vehicles being put in parking spots all over residential neighborhoods in Corona with ‘for sale’ signs on them,” Cermeli said Monday.

The commander said it’s hard to determine if the business owner or employees are usually responsible for curbstoning. He believes a lot of people trying to sell their vehicles now may have been in an accident or don’t have the money to maintain it.

The owner of an auto body shop on 47th Avenue was given a ticket in late October, according to Moya’s office. Reached Wednesday by the Queens Chronicle, someone who picked up the phone after the owner was requested said he had not gotten a ticket and that the boss was not there, before hanging up.

To sell more than five vehicles per year in New York, a dealer’s license is needed.

“Most of these folks don’t have that,” Moya said.

Secondhand auto dealers must have a valid Department of Consumer Affairs license and all printed handouts to customers must include the license number. Vehicles cannot be parked, stored, displayed or left standing partially or completely on the sidewalk or street.

That’s where one problem lies.

Safety activist and cyclist Peter Beadle said there is no lack of examples of cars being parked on sidewalks in industrial areas, near not just car dealerships but police precincts.

“You increase the risk that somebody is going to step off the curb into traffic to get around the parked cars,” he said.

Beadle says there has been a normalization of seeing cars habitually violate space where they are not allowed.

“It becomes, ‘Well, you know, what are you going to do? We’re living in a busy city.’ No. There are other cities that actually enforce their rules,” Beadle said.

Cermeli said many of the cars recently towed were not allowed to be parked where they were and didn’t even have the proper registration or license plates to legally be on the street.

Paper plates were often distributed as temporary licenses with the Department of Motor Vehicles not being open for in-person service during the pandemic.

“But a lot of people were manufacturing their own license plates illegally,” Cermeli said.

He said a vehicle in an accident with no insurance or registration “would present a whole host of inconveniences, a lot of problems for other people that are being affected by this.”

The precinct has been doing random car stops at different locations to check the legality of vehicles. Around 20 have been towed in the last month.

“If someone loses their car and it gets towed, they’re out a significant amount of money so I think that the message definitely is being driven home,” Cermeli said.

The 2015 curbstoning bill sponsored by Moya and Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx), and signed into law by Gov. Cuomo, quadrupled penalties for operating as an unlicensed dealer from $1,000 to $4,010.

“The only way that this works is when you hit them in their wallet,” Moya said.

A 2015 report by the two politicians said dealers operating illegally without a license cost the state as much as $56.4 million annually in lost sales tax revenue.

Some experts have said that 80 percent of cars in classified ads are not being sold by individuals.

The councilman said another problem is if there is a functioning problem with the vehicle. “You can just drive away and if that car breaks down you have no ability to get your money back,” Moya said.

The lawmaker said the reason more aren’t towed is because dealers warn others when they see cars being taken away. “Here, it’s word of mouth,” Moya said. “The moment they see one car going, they’re calling each other on their burner phones, ‘You’ve gotta move the cars.’ I’ve seen it because I’ve gone on these tow operations with them.”

The report from Moya and Klein found most curbstoners use prepaid, untraceable burner phones to operate. The investigation found that 85 percent of identified curbstoners posted a cell number as their contact information. Many were provided by companies notorious for supporting burner phones.