The city’s failure to collect fines on thousands of properties with unpaid building violations in Marine Park, Madison, Sheepshead Bay, and surrounding neighborhoods makes a mockery of zoning laws, leading some locals to call for some Wild West justice at a civic meeting on May 17.
“Why can’t they get a posse together and collect?” said Fran Minichiello of Sheepshead Bay.
The lax enforcement of so-called environmental control board violations — which the Department of Buildings slaps on developers when they fail to comply with construction or zoning rules — was the subject of a special meeting of the Madison-Marine-Homecrest Civic Association in Marine Park last week, where residents grilled officials from the buildings department and the Department of Finance, which is responsible for collecting the fines.
There are 2,366 properties with open violations in the territory of Community Board 18, which includes parts of Marine Park, Mill Basin, Canarsie, and other neighborhoods. There are 5,518 total open violations in that area, meaning some properties have more than one, according to the Department of Buildings.
Within Community Board 15, which encompasses Madison, Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach, and other areas, there are 1,941 properties with open violations, and 4,505 total such violations among 31,884 properties, according to the department. The Madison-Marine-Homecrest Civic Association includes parts of both CB15 and CB18.
The Department of Finance did not respond to a request for information on how much money’s worth of violations currently remains unpaid in Brooklyn, but a response to a freedom of information law request from the association said there were more than $247 million in outstanding violations in the borough in August 2017.
The finance and buildings officials at the meeting said the agencies are making progress improving collections, pointing out that they collected $90 million on outstanding violations in Fiscal Year 2017 — up $30 million from the year before. Efforts to improve collection included making it possible to pay violations online, and referring more delinquents to the city’s Sheriffs and Marshals, they said.
“We have gotten tougher,” said the finance official. “It’s never in our interest to let fines go uncollected.”
But the official also said that Albany limits their ability to make builders pay up.
“State law says the violations expire after eight years,” she said. “Developers know that and will wait.”
Some in the audience were not satisfied with the city’s increased collection efforts. One Manhattan Beacher said it’s not fair that residents have to pay what they owe the city to while developers can wait eight years and escape their fine.
“Everyone has to pay their property taxes,” said Judy Baron. “But people know they can wait eight years. It’s ridiculous.”
Civic honcho Ed Jaworski was were more sympathetic, saying he didn’t know about the state’s statute of limitations on the city violations, and vowed to press the issue with Albany.
“I was not aware of that. I’ve been trying to address the city on this for years,” he said. “It’s mind boggling.”