Illegal billboards and unpaid fines

January 20, 2012 8:14:54 PM PST
It's been a week since a giant illegal billboard collapsed on the BQE.

Since then, an Eyewitness News investigation has discovered illegal billboards are everywhere and the companies that own them owe the city millions in unpaid fines.

When the illegal billboard came crashing down in strong winds on the BQE, Brooklyn City Council woman Letitia James got caught in the ensuing gridlock.

It gave her time to think about the years she spent trying to rid the city of these illegal signs.

" Some of these are major businesses and they've been put on notice time and time again," James said.

Mogul Media owned the collapsed billboard.

Eyewitness News checked Department of Building records and found Mogul has at least three other illegal signs for which it still owes the city $40,000.

But that's nothing compared to other billboard companies.

Eyewitness News' investigation found that Contest Promotions owes more than $300,000 for nine illegal signs that the city says have been put up without a permit.

Building's records also show that these two signs are illegal.

The city says they're too big and too close to the roadway and lack the necessary permits.

For these violations, the owner has been hit with more than a-half million dollars in fines.

He's fighting it in court.

Our computer search of the last 24 months found the city has given out hundreds of violations and fines totaling more than $5-million, mostly for signs being within 200 feet of a highway, which is a distraction to motorists.

"Some of these fines have not been paid in a very, very long time and the city unfortunately has not done a good job in collecting these fines and enforcing the law in the city of New York," James said.

"I don't know why the city has an agenda to put viable businesses out of business," Robert Hochman said.

Robert Hochman who once headed enforcement for the Buildings Department thinks the city is trying to raise revenue by squeezing billboard companies with steep fines.

One outdoor advertiser even put up this sign painting the billboard crackdown as anti-jobs.

And, the owner of another advertising space, took down his illegal billboard after getting hit with $400,000 in fines.

His attorney says steep fines have forced the company into bankruptcy:

"They're out of balance with rest of penalties DOB will issue (how so?) The crane that fell that crushed building, faced $25,000 in fines, maximum. Advertising fine I could face 20, 30, 50,000 fine. It's disproportionate," Hochman said.

The city says since 2007, 1,000 illegal signs have come down.

Still many more remain and tens of millions in fines go unpaid which has some in city council calling for forced removal.

"Remove the billboards," James said.

"Forcefully go in and take it down?" Eyewitness News Investigative Reporter Jim Hoffer said.

"If they refuse to pay the fine after a period of time, they should remove the billboard again because of safety considerations," James said.

Meanwhile, the City Council is calling on the Buildings Department to inspect all billboard structures to ensure they can withstand heavy winds.

And just weeks ago, the city reached an agreement with the nation's largest billboard company to pay $3-million in fines and remove 1,500 illegal signs by the end of March.


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