Councilmember Robert Cornegy (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant, Northern Crown Heights) and the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) gave Bedford Stuyvesant seniors the 4-1-1 on pesky summonses that can lead to big problems.
Over a dozen seniors gathered at the Bed-Stuy Restoration Plaza, 1368 Fulton Street to hear how OATH, is making the process easier to tackle fines. Residents can respond to summonses through phone, online or through the city’s latest remote service – video.
“It used to be that you had to go in person and if you didn’t go in person on a particular day you defaulted,” said OATH Commissioner Fidel F. Del Valle.
Del Valle said there are now several easier ways to have your day in court without actually being there, which is especially important to homebound seniors.
OATH oversees summonses from more than 20 city agencies including the Department of Health, Department of Parks and Recreation, the police department and the Department of Sanitation (DOS), explained Del Valle, adding the DOS is the leading source of summonses in the city, issuing nearly 150,000 sanitation summonses within a year.
Some seniors, who own brownstones in the neighborhood, complained about DOS inspection agents noting incorrect addresses as part of the problem. Others said in-person hearings can be daunting, time-consuming and physically unmanageable for seniors.
“My mother and sister are both homeowners and don’t know how to proceed, said Rhonda Johnson, 60, a long time Bedford Stuyvesant resident. “The tickets are intimidating.”
Johnson said family members often choose to simply pay the fine without questioning the ticket.
Del Valle made a point to highlight city agencies issuing tickets are no longer in control of the adjudication process.
“We want people to understand that it is a fair court where you get a fair and even chance to defend yourself,” said Del Valle.
The 35-year-old agency looks to become even more consumer friendly in the future, someday alleviating the need for attorneys. In addition to ongoing technological advances, the agency implemented procedural coordinators throughout their citywide help centers.
According to Del Valle, over 41 percent of summonses are dismissed because of bad merits or the city agency does not attend the hearing to defend their case.
While Cornegy and the commissioner lauded the new advances for the hearing process, both warned residents that avoiding fines could escalate and lead to the city imposing liens on homes.
Today’s meeting is part of a series of roundtables to help senior constituents in the council member’s district. Cornegy said the next session would focus on small businesses.
“We had a commissioner come in and sit down and give us information on how to deal with and address the summonses that seniors [in Bedford-Stuyvesant] are getting disproportionately to other districts,” said Cornegy. “
“Seniors are actually losing their homes based on these summonses,” he added.