Owners have to take time away from their stores, head to court and deal with the fines. If they don’t, the penalties can add up.
To better inform small businesses on their options, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) is hosting a symposium on December 11 at Flushing Library.
Along with Councilman Peter Koo, the Queens Chamber of Commerce and the Flushing Chinese Business Association, OATH is bringing together representatives from various city agencies to talk about common violations.
“This is a matter of fairness,” said OATH Commissioner Fidel Del Valle. “We want to educate people on how they can deal with a summons, that they do have a right to fight a summons.”
According to Del Valle, there are about two dozen agencies can issue summonses to homeowners and businesses. OATH is not part of these agencies, and does not write the rules, but rather applies the rules to each case.
“An inspector will write a summons, he has a story. You get a summons, you have your story,” Del Valle said. “What the hearing officer does is apply it to the law and make a credibility judgment.”
Last year, the agency received 850,000 summonses. Of those issued, 30,000 were challenged in a hearing. Del Valle said roughly 44 percent of the summons were dismissed, either because something was wrong with the summons, or the business owner had a valid defense.
However, about one-third of people ignore their summons, the commissioner said. The penalties don’t just disappear, he said, which may present more serious problems to the homeowner or business owner down the line.
“If you want to buy a house or get a loan or something, that’s going to be floating up there,” he said, “accumulating penalties and interest because they’re ignored.”
OATH has improved its system over the last five years to make it easier for people to respond to summonses. They have a help center to assist people who don’t know what to do, or may be missing necessary documents.
The agency now also provides translation services, which is helpful to many immigrant businesses who get fined.
But Del Valle stressed that more business owners need to address the summons before they become a more significant problem.
Councilman Peter Koo, who owned a chain of pharmacies himself, said the event helps business owners decide which tickets they should fight, and which are less severe. Some fines may not come with penalties if the owner resolves the issue before a certain time.
“There are different ways to handle summonses,” he said.
Thomas Grech, president and CEO of the Queens Chamber, said while New York City is the best place on earth to do business, it’s often one of the hardest places as well. Having a partner in OATH makes the process a lot easier, he said.
“If somebody comes and pleads their case, I’m sure it can be adjudicated in a fair way,” Grech said.