BY BENJAMIN FANG
Residents and small business owners got a lesson in dealing with summonses issued by city agencies.
Last month, the Queens Chamber of Commerce teamed up with the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) for a resource fair inside the Hollis Library. Representatives from the Department of Buildings, Fire Department, Department of Sanitation, Department of Health and other agencies were on hand to answer questions from attendees.
Abdullah Zahid, manager of the Hollis Library and a homeowner in Queens Village, said he found the resource fair helpful. He was issued a sanitation summons recently for mixing up his papers with his recyclables. But on his summons, he noticed that he was only given two weeks to pay the fine, even though a possible hearing date would be after the payment deadline.
“So I was confused, how would I go to the hearing without paying?” Zahid said. “Once I paid, that means I admitted and there’s no point of going to the hearing.”
The library manager said he paid the fine anyway, but sought clarity from OATH at the fair.
“It’s a good way to discuss, OATH gave me very helpful information,” he said. “It’s a lesson for the future.”
During the fair, OATH deputy commissioner for Public Affairs Marisa Senigo explained that everyone has the opportunity to fight their charges.
“We are the independent court where you would go to fight charges,” she said. “We are where you go to tell your side of the story.”
Senigo noted that city summonses have a dismissal rate of about 48 percent. Some agencies have a lower dismissal rate. The FDNY, for example, dismisses only 8 to 10 percent of its summonses.
“That’s because they take fire safety very seriously, they make it a point to do very good inspections,” Senigo said. “They also send representatives to every single hearing to represent the agency’s side.”
The Department of Sanitation, meanwhile, has a dismissal rate closer to 70 percent. They do not send representatives to OATH hearings, making those summonses easier to contest. Senigo noted that if agencies don’t appear at a hearing, a resident or business owner can contest the summons online, over the phone, by mail or webcam. They can submit testimony by phone and send evidence by email.
“What you’re basically doing at a hearing is you’re trying to be more credible than the summons,” Senigo said. “The hearing officer is making a credibility finding.”