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Property Owners Face Fines For Failing to Remove Graffiti

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Legislation signed into law by Mayor Michael Bloomberg on December 29th increases the stakes for owners of commercial properties and larger residential buildings to get their graffiti cleaned up.The legislation, Intro 299-A, imposes fines under certain conditions that, its authors hope, will encourage property owners in various corners of the city to clean up after graffiti vandals.“By imposing fines against the owners of certain property who fail to remove graffiti from their premises, coupled with granting to the city the ability to clean graffiti in public view from commercial and residential buildings, after an adequate notification process to property owners of such buildings, this legislation will improve the quality of life for our residents,” the legislative findings explain. Bloomberg, when he signed the legislation into law, called it and two other graffiti-fighting laws, “Commonsense measures that will help fight graffiti and keep our city clean and beautiful.”Basically, the law affects owners of commercial buildings and residential buildings of six or more units. If they are notified in writing by the city of the existence of graffiti on their property, they have 60 days to have the graffiti removed. This can be done through the city’s free graffiti abatement program, which would be explained in the written notice sent to the property owners.If, however, the building owners do not have the graffiti removed, the city, under the law, “May cause such graffiti to be removed,” and can also fine the property owner between $150 and $300. This fine can be recovered if the property owner can prove that he or she had taken the prescribed steps to have the graffiti obliterated, including signing a waiver that would allow the city or other entity to come onto the private property to remove the graffiti. No property can be fined more than once in a six-month period, and no summonses can be issued from November 1st through March 31st.Robert Varley, deputy chief of staff for City Councilmember Michael Nelson, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, noted that, “Graffiti is a major issue in our community. It’s a blight on the neighborhood that needs to be addressed and, out of community pride, should always be taken care of.”Varley pointed out that Nelson is “one of a handful of councilmembers who fund a private graffiti-removal service. We come off as graffiti geeks, almost.” Making sure graffiti is obliterated, Varley stressed, “comes as a responsibility of home or business ownership. There are so many groups that also provide graffiti removal that it is not burdensome. Anyone who lives in Councilman Nelson’s district can call us up and we’ll send someone out.“You can’t estimate the crime-fighting ability that’s built into this,” Varley added. “When graffiti stays up, it emboldens graffiti vandals.”City Councilmember Yvette Clarke, also a co-sponsor of the bill, concurred. “Embedded in some graffiti are youth gang signals and things of that nature,” she pointed out. “For younger kids, it can be disruptive and unsettling, so there is a real reason and a valid one for getting rid of that stuff. By not removing it, we almost say benignly that we don’t care and also give license to the youth gangs out there that they have territory to stake out.”Despite such cogent reasons for graffiti removal, Clarke pointed out that, “There are some folks who own property in the community who could care less, who have become so jaded about graffiti versus graffiti removal that they make assumptions about the communities where they own property.” It is these people, she stressed, who are targeted by the legislation.Part of the effort, Clarke added, has to be in the arena of letting people know what the legislation is, the options that exist for graffiti removal, and the penalties for not cooperating. “I think there needs to be an educational campaign,” she said. “I don’t know that most of our owners of commercial or residential buildings are aware of the legislation.”

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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