New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Capital New York City owed $1.5B in uncollected judgments by Sally Goldenberg

City owed $1.5B in uncollected judgments

New York City, which operates with a $75 billion budget, is owed $1.48 billion in unpaid judgments from more than 1.5 million infractions, including building, fire and sanitation code violations, Capital has learned.

The money owed by individuals and businesses also includes $350 million in interest, according to information provided to Capital upon request by the City Council.

The Council received the data from the Department of Finance, which is responsible for collecting outstanding debt from docketed judgments it receives from the city's Environmental Control Board. Not all city agencies are under the purview of the E.C.B., but the 13 ticket-issuing departments—which also include the police department, Department of Environmental Protection and parks department—are.

About $1.23 billion, or roughly 83 percent of the money that's owed, dates back more than two years, and some of it goes back as much as seven years, according to the information provided.

The agency with the highest debt is the Department of Buildings, which is owed approximately $770 million from 122,897 fines, according to the data. The department hands out tickets for a slew of violations, including broken elevators and boilers, cracked facades and generally unsafe conditions.

The FDNY is owed $101.6 million for 48,863 outstanding tickets while uncollected debt for the sanitation department totals more than $411 million, including recycling infractions, according to the data.

Other departments under the E.C.B.'s purview include the police department, Department of Environmental Protection and parks department.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, who chairs the finance committee and requested the data during a budget hearing earlier this year, said she will introduce legislation in October with Councilman Ben Kallos that would require E.C.B. to report quarterly to the Council on fines that are issued by city agencies and adjudicated by the E.C.B. The information would also have to be made available to the public.

"As we have learned through nearly 100 hours spent in budget hearings, transparency is of the utmost importance when it comes to the oversight of our city's dollars," Ferreras said in a statement. "Clearly, these fines date far past our current administration. It should not take hearings and several weeks of inter-agency communication to retrieve this information; it should be readily available."

The Department of Finance receives docketed judgments from E.C.B. that remain unpaid for more than 45 days after a hearing date, spokeswomen for both agencies said.

Ninety percent of the debt referred to the finance department is based on a default judgment, one spokeswoman said.

A number of factors pose obstacles for debt collection, she said, such as companies going out of business, debtors skipping their court hearings and incorrect information printed on a ticket.

In recent years, the finance department contracted with three outside collection agencies. For Fiscal Year 2014 through May, it received debt payments totaling $23.7 million, the spokeswoman said.

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