Pole vault! Woman hit for thousands in fines for one illegal act

Fine, but not dandy: Susan Hager is facing more than $1,000 in city fines for hanging a single packet of fliers on a lamppost.
The Brooklyn Paper / Andy Campbell

A Brooklyn Heights small business owner faces thousands in fines — even though she only posted one thing on a Court Street lamppost.

The owner of the design firm Sketch & Hammer, Susan Hager, freely admits that she taped an envelope containing 15 of business cards for her custom deck and garden company on that lamppost back in April.

But she is fighting the decision by the sanitation worker to write separate summons for each of the business cards rather than for the one envelope that contained them.

“It said I’ll be paying a minimum of $75 for each card, and I could ultimately pay up to $3,000 for the whole deal,” said Hager, who received the summonses in the mail last week. “I don’t mind paying $75, but $3,000?”

Small businesses say that such overzealous enforcement of sanitation and other “quality of life” crimes is the norm under Mayor Bloomberg, whose third-term re-election effort was frequently dogged by charges that he isn’t doing enough for Mom and Pop.

That sense trickled up to the City Council, which passed a bill in November to give drivers a grace period on parking tickets — on the grounds that Bloomberg’s meter maids were handing out too many “gotcha” tickets just seconds after the time expired.

Despite that context, Hager did break the rules and the summonses against her were legitimate, said Sanitation spokesman Matt LiPani.

“It’s illegal posting,” he said. “If you post 20 cards on one pole or multiple poles, it’s 20 different infractions.”

A scofflaw has no idea that he or she has done anything wrong for months, because the Sanitation Department sometimes mails the summonses well after the alleged infraction, tracking down the violator through information on the fliers themselves.

In Hager’s 26 years in business locally, she said she’s never seen a fine so outrageous, so she’ll fight the charge at her first court hearing on Dec. 11. Until then, she’s warning other small business owners to find a different way to promote their companies.

“Post inside of restaurants,” she said. “Or they will track you.”

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