Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lawn Litter Enforcement Begins in August


By Conor Greene

Residents tired of having unwanted circulars, restaurant menus and other fliers dumped on their lawn can fight back starting next month, when the city begins enforcing a new law intended to reduce the amount of “lawn litter” left on private property.

The city Department of Sanitation will begin enforcing the new law on August 2, according to Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D -Little Neck), who co-authored the bill with Senator Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose). Fines will range from $250 for first time offenders to $1,000 for repeat offenders. The law was passed in January, but enforcement was put on hold until the Department of Sanitation finalized its procedures for assessing fines to violators.

Under the adopted rules, homeowners can place a sign stating: “Do Not Place Unsolicited Advertising Materials On This Property.” To report violators, residents can submit a signed complaint form (available online or by calling 311) and the unsolicited materials to the Department of Sanitation. Weprin called it a “great example of government responding directly to constituents’ concerns.” He was motivated to take action against this quality of life issue after “people around the city complained for years about receiving unsolicited advertisements on their property.”

Aside from the quality of life issues, the law was also motivated by safety, said Weprin. “Plastic bags become slippery when wet, elderly and disabled residents sometimes have difficulty bending down to pick up paper from the ground, and a pile of uncollected advertisements can be a signal to burglars that homeowners are away,” he said.

The final version of the enforcement rules were tweaked after civic organizations and elected officials complained that too much of the onus was placed on the resident. Under the proposed rules released earlier this year, residents would be required to have the form notarized before sending it back to the Sanitation Department’s enforcement unit.

That aspect of the law prompted Weprin and Padavan to write a joint letter to the Sanitation Department arguing, “It may be difficult for one reason or another for people to get to a notary.” The representatives expressed concerned that the requirement of a notarized complaint… may well discourage citizens [from submitting] complaints.”

While the notary requirement was considered to prevent false complaints against businesses and to add credence to resident’s complaints, it was deleted from the final requirements. Instead, residents submitting complaints “must certify that the information is truthful and accurate, and acknowledge that false statements in the complaint form are punishable” under state law. If necessary, they must also be available to testify before the Environmental Control Board.

In their letter to Sanitation, Weprin and Padavan noted that there appears to be widespread support for the initiative, which they compared to the “Do Not Call” registry. “From our personal observations, to complaints from community boards, civic organizations and our neighbors, unwanted literature, advertisements and fliers left on private property is not only a blight throughout Queens but a safety issue as well.”