Updated, January 24, 2019 at 1.44pm: For months, small business owners across the city were on high alert for an avalanche of complaints being made against unauthorized signs on their shopfronts. Who was responsible, and why, remained a mystery.
But a theory has emerged. City Councilmember Justin Brannan, issued a letter this week to the NYC Department of Investigation, pointing to a city employee as the possible culprit behind a scam.
The scandal erupted after a December report revealed that almost 1,900 complaints were filed for illegal signage last year. In Brooklyn, were the majority of the complaints were made, more than 200 calls about unauthorized signs were made to the city in November, up from 23 during the same month in 2017.
Following the report, the Awnings Act was passed this month to place a two year temporary moratorium on shop and awnings violations — waiving any fees temporarily.
Brannan’s letter, which was first reported by Bklyner, states that a small business in Bay Ridge, which his district covers, reported a man wearing a Department of Buildings jacket arrived at the business and told the shop owner that he was aware the building had a shop sign violation issued against it. The purported DOB employee, who allegedly showed an ID card, then gave the shop owner the name of a sign business that would legally install a sign, and “make it right.”
The business owner was unaware that a violation had even been issued against the shop, according to the letter. To hang signs and awnings in the city, installers must hold city-issued special permits to do so, and sometimes shop owners are unaware that a sign was hung by an unaccredited business. The theory, Brannan writes, is that the purported scam has been orchestrated by a sign business with proper licensing, and conducted with a city buildings inspector.
The Department of Buildings said it had referred the matter to the city’s Department of Investigation. “Council Member Brannan brought this allegation to our attention last week and we referred him to DOI for an investigation of the matter, including the possibility that someone may be impersonating a DOB employee. We very much welcome a full DOI review,” agency spokesperson Andrew Rudansky said in a statement. [Bklyner] — David Jeans