Espinal Finalizes Awnings Act, Small Businesses Saved Thousands In Fines


Nearly a thousand small businesses citywide can breath a sigh of relief after Council Member Rafael Espinal (D-Bushwick, East New York) yesterday finalized negotiations with the Mayor Bill de Blasio‘s office to establish The Awnings Act.

Under the legislation the hundreds of small shop owners that were targeted and issued fines for up to $6,000 this year for signs and awnings that have been hanging for decades, will not have to pay anything. For those that have already paid the fine, they will receive discounted rates on permits for installing a new awning or sign, needing to pay only 25% of the cost

According to a previous KCP story, immigrant Bodegas and mom & pop stores, particularly Chinese and Arabic owned have been hit hardest by anonymous 311 calls, which resulted in the Department of Business doing an inspection, which lead to a wave of the tickets.

Besides these tickets, this also led to shops, such as a several along Church Avenue between McDonald Avenue and Ocean Parkway to take down their awnings to avoid tickets.

City Council Member Rafael Espinal called for a moratorium on the city ticketing blitz of small businesses on the steps of city hall last week.

This led to Espinal earlier this month leading a rally along with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, several other council members and dozens of small business owners to put a spotlight on the issue.

Espinal than led the charge as the prime sponsor and negotiator with the de Blasio administration of the Awnings Act with City Council Member Mark Gjonaj, Justin Brannan, Carlos Menchaca, Bob Holden, Peter Koo, and Kalman Yeger as prime co-sponsors.

“Laws like this one, that have received so much support from the community and my colleagues, make me proud to serve in the City Council. It took a network of New Yorkers to put together The Awnings Act, but the final product is a law that will forever protect mom & pops. It achieves unprecedented aid for small businesses that have been unfairly targeted, and represents the exact kinds of issues that a responsive Council should be resolving every day,” said Espinal.

In total the The Awnings Act:

  • Establishing an immediate year-long moratorium on the DOB’s ability to issue fines for awnings
  • For those that have yet to pay the fine, they can enter into a DOB program and have the fine removed, meaning they will not have to pay anything
  • For those that have already paid the fine, they will receive discounted rates on permits for installing a new awning or sign, needing to pay only 25% of the cost
  • An awnings task force will be convened including small business owners, chambers of commerce from each borough, and representatives of various agencies, to address further and existing concerns
  • Allowing any general contractor the ability to hang awnings or signs, which will dramatically reduce the cost as it opens the market beyond the 20-30 licensed hangers before
Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams
Justin Brannan
City Council Member Justin Brannan

“I thank Council Member Espinal and the prime co-sponsors of the Awnings Act for reaching an agreement with City Hall on final passage and implementation. This legislation achieves the goals I have sought in establishing an immediate moratorium on the ticket blitz as well as creating some form of restitution for impacted small businesses. I will be vigilant in going after any measure, intentional or not, where ‘taxation through citation’ is threatening our small business community,” said Adams.

Brannan (D-Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Bath Beach), whose district includes a number of small businesses hit with the ticket blitz, said with so many vacant storefronts across the city, local government should be making it easier for small businesses to survive not harder.

“Frankly, unless a business is making people sick, endangering the public or treating people unfairly, I don’t see why the city should be fining them at all. This bill will help small businesses with signs and awnings that they thought were perfectly legal and were of no concern to city inspectors but have suddenly become the target of a massive fine-writing operation. Not only will this bill stop the city from saddling local mom and pop shops with ridiculously high fines, it will go back and provide assistance to those who have recently be ensnared in this fines for signs ordeal,” said Brannan.

City Councilman Carlos Menchaca
City Councilman Kalman Yeger

Menchaca (D-Sunset Park, Red Hook), whose district includes 8th Avenue – the Brooklyn Chinatown – which has taken down a large number of awnings, said the measure is proof of the good local government can accomplish when all parts work together towards a common goal.

Thanks to the leadership of my colleague Council Member Rafael Espinal, we have an opportunity to rewrite the rules on sign violations and better balance the needs of public safety with business success. As the district hardest hit by this crisis, I want to also thank the Fifth Ave BID, the Health Essential Association, the Chinese Mutual Support Labor Association, and the Brooklyn Community Improvement Association, who were instrumental in bringing this to our attention and helping us to organize and educate business owners prior to the bill’s completion,” said Menchaca.

Yeger (D-Boro Park, Bensonhurst, Midwood) said it became clear that sign enforcement had little to do with ensuring public safety. 

“The city should focus its efforts on creating a hospitable environment for small businesses to grow and thrive, not terrorizing them with crippling penalties for signs that post no risk to public safety,” he said.