United Hardware has been serving Bay Ridge for more than 80 years. And the large awning outside was there before Mason Sinno took over the business 30 years ago.
There was never a problem with the sign, until a couple of months ago, when the Department of Buildings hit him with a fine close to $8,000.
The problem with the hardware sign: there was never a permit for it.
According to city building codes, signs larger than 6 square feet require a special installation permit.
Sinno says he tried to fight it at a hearing, but ultimately lost.
“I don’t have giant lawyers behind me that I can take and fight it like the big corporations do,” Sinno said.
He's not alone. Multiple long-time businesses on the 3rd and 5th Avenue corridors of Bay Ridge have also been fined for a host of archaic signage violations.
The buildings department says it is not operating a crackdown. But the increase is linked to anonymous 311 complaints, which the agency is obligated to investigate and take action on if violations are found.
Over the past three years, the number of 311 complaints about business awnings and signs stayed steady around 900, until this year, when it doubled to nearly 1900 complaints.
Of the five boroughs Brooklyn, saw the biggest spike, with about 1,000 complaints in 2018 so far.
Council Member Justin Brannan says the signs aren’t a danger, the real danger are the small business owners who may suffer.
“We’re worried that sign companies are going out there and putting in these complaints in the hopes that these businesses will then call the sign company and say, ‘Hey can you get me into compliance?’ otherwise we don’t really know what’s going on,” Brannan said.
In the meantime other merchants aren’t taking the risk.
Melissa Wu took her sign down in fear of a hefty fine, replacing it with a banner. The awning is gone from the dry cleaners two doors down as well.
And on the next block, Rainbow Hair Salon ditched theirs, too. All of them were preemptively removed this week.
Legislators are working on bills to update the laws, and calling for a short-term plan to protect these family businesses.
Brannan is calling for moratorium to stop these fines with the exception of signs that actually pose a threat to public safety.