New York, NY — A four-bill legislative package to improve how the city issues and collects fines for Environmental Control Board (ECB) violations, was announced today by New York City Council Members Ben Kallos and Julissa Ferreras. The Environmental Control Board (ECB) is a city tribunal that adjudicates “quality of life” violations issued by 13 city agencies. After the decision, the fines are collected by the Department of Finance or referred to the Law Department or a third-party debt collector. Of the debt referred to the Department of Finance, 90% has been issued a default judgment, making it extremely challenging to collect. Eighty-four percent of debt owed to is over two years old.
In a March 2014 Preliminary Budget Hearing in the Committee on Governmental Operations, which has oversight over the ECB, Chair Ben Kallos followed up on now-Borough President Gale Brewer’s investigation of outstanding ECB debt that had shown $440 million was owed over just three years from 2007-2009. The follow up showed that the debt had continued to balloon.
On May 30, 2014, Council Member Julissa Ferreras held an Executive Budget hearing and pressed the matter further. In June 2014, the Department of Finance issued a report showing the extent of the debt. Council Members Ferreras and Kallos introduced transparency legislation on October 7, 2014, requiring annual reporting from Department of Finance to the City Council on the sky-high debt. On January 22, 2014, it was signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
A four-bill reform package is intended to address difficulty collecting fines and give the Environmental Control Board violations teeth:
· Intro 810 allows issuing agencies to suspend or revoke licenses and permits for large unpaid debts resulting from ECB violations.
· Intro 812 requiring specific location details, including lot and building ID number, so the city can follow up with those who do not pay.
· Intro 807 requires agencies and Department of Finance to seek to find the actual name of the violator, so tickets do not get thrown out.
· Intro 811 allowing 30 days to correct typos or small errors in violations issued.
“Quality of life will get better if these reforms pass. Violations should actually be enforceable when they are written, and lead to revocation of licenses for bad neighbors,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “When we invest in enforcing against unsafe and unacceptable behavior, we must be able to collect.”
Because of bureaucratic barriers, businesses or individuals are often repeatedly fined by the ECB and do not pay, lessening the disincentive for bad behavior. Here are just a few examples of buildings with unpaid fines:
· The troubled Prince Hotel in Bay Ridge
· 85 Christopher St., which received an evacuation order on May 15
· 2442 Lorillad Place, where dangerous ice built up over the winter
· 2425 Nostrand Ave., where residents experienced hazardous conditions
Intro 810 (Kallos) allows issuing agencies the power to suspend or revoke licenses and permits for outstanding ECB debts--$50,00 after two years; $25,000 after four years.
Intro 807 (Ferreras, Kallos) mandates that agencies do due diligence to find the actual name of the recipient of the violation. If they fail to do so, Department of Finance must. One of the principal reasons debt is difficult is to collect is that violations are often written to “owner of,” making collection nearly impossible.
Intro 812 (Kallos, Ferreras) requires borough, block, and lot number as well as the building ID number for property so the violator can be identified and followed up with if they fail to pay.
Intro 811 (Kallos, Ferreras) allows issuing agencies 30 days to correct errors, mistakes, and omissions on a violation so it is maximally valid at the time of the hearing.