The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association is fighting the Sanitation Department’s practice of issuing tickets to property owners in the middle of the night for garbage dumped outside their properties, an issue that has affected the civic organization personally.
The problem stems from a common nighttime occurrence — people dumping trash outside Jamaica Avenue storefronts. Then, Sanitation Department agents write summonses in the middle of the night, fining property owners for failing to dispose of this rubbish they never even had the chance to see because it had been dumped there after their businesses were closed for the day.
The WRBA said it has cost business owners on Jamaica Avenue hundreds of dollars. Moreover, the civic said the Sanitation Department agents routinely take the trash with them when they write the ticket, without providing any photographs to the property owners — meaning that they see no evidence of the infractions for which they are being fined.
The WRBA, which has a storefront at 84-20 Jamaica Ave., has been hit repeatedly. In recent weeks, it has received $25 Sanitation tickets at 1:05 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. for trash dumped long after business hours outside its office. Just last week the Sanitation Department fined the civic group $100 because somebody discarded a mattress in front of the building.
On Monday, the WRBA wrote to Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, asking her to end the practice. Previous efforts to communicate with Sanitation Department personnel have not resulted in any discernible changes.
The group is hoping to get help from the very top of the political chain — the mayor himself — who had acknowledged the problem before.
Last year, then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio wrote a letter to the Sanitation Department to defend the WRBA and encourage the end of middle-of-the-night ticketing. He then called for the rules to be changed to mirror those regarding shoveling snow; property owners cannot be fined in the middle of the night for failing to shovel snow that has just fallen.
“Enough is enough,” WRBA President Martin Colberg said in a statement. “The Sanitation Department has refused to listen to us, and they’ve refused to listen to Bill de Blasio. This unfair practice must end.”
Maria Thomson, executive director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District, said she was aware of the problem and that several stores along Jamaica Avenue have been hit with fines from garbage dumped there after hours. She said the Woodhaven BID will fight tickets on behalf of the store owners, and she has taken further action.
“I’ve brought it to the Department of Small Business [Services],” Thomson said. “It’s a shame, because we can’t afford tickets we did not earn.”
Thomson noted that business owners often have to close their shops to fight the tickets and that costs them not only the cost of the ticket, but also lost revenue for the day. Colberg noted that the WRBA has only one paid employee who staffs the office for several hours during the day, and he didn’t want her to have to go to court to fight the summonses.
“If we have to send her to fight the ticket, then it affects our ability to serve the community,” he said.
Thomson is especially bothered by the practice of increasing fines for tickets that are fought, which she said discourages people from fighting summonses that are not deserved.
“I don’t think that’s fair,” she said. “As soon as you fight the ticket, they should just leave it at the original fine even if you lose.”
Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), who had said last year that he would pursue legislation to cease the ticketing, criticized it in a statement.
“This practice penalizes property owners who already pay enough in high taxes, utilities, and skyrocketing water and sewer rates,” Ulrich said. “Woodhaven deserves better, not city tickets that nickel-and-dime hardworking middle class families and small business owners.”
Marti Adams, a spokeswoman for de Blasio, said the city was looking into the WRBA fines.
“DSNY is investigating the details of this particular case,” she said in a statement. “Mayor de Blasio remains fully committed to fairness in the issuance of violations of the health and administrative codes against property owners.”
Keith Mellis, a spokesman for the Sanitation Department, echoed Adams’ statement, saying the agency’s Enforcement Unit has reached out to Colberg and is investigating.