Seniors warned: Don’t ignore summonses

Fidel Del Valle, commissioner of the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, speaks at the event held at the Sirovich Center, pictured with Council Member Carlina Rivera (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Ignoring that $100 ticket could end up costing more than $12,000.

The high price tag of ignoring a summons was a major impetus for the workshop held by Councilmember Carlina Rivera at the Sirovich Senior Center on East 12th Street last Friday.

Representatives from the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, which handles most of the summonses issued in the city, wanted to educate seniors on the new ways in which the city is helping residents deal with summonses without even leaving their homes, which can be especially useful for seniors who have mobility challenges.

Assistant Commissioner Marisa Senigo said that there isn’t specific data about how many summonses seniors as a group receive because the agency doesn’t record demographic information, but summonses issued to seniors would often fall under the “personal behavior” category, such as public consumption of alcohol, public urination or being in a park after dark.

OATH Commissioner Fidel Del Valle emphasized that summonses sent to OATH are technically violations and are not considered crimes.

“When you get a summons, it means that an inspector or enforcement agency charges you with violating some law or regulation,” he said. “You’re entitled to a hearing and it means you’re being summoned to appear before a hearing officer to answer for a violation.”

Del Valle explained that there are 23 different agencies that send summonses to the office, with the most coming from the Department of Sanitation. Of the 877,544 summonses that were issued last year, about 400,000 of those came from Sanitation and are often issued to property owners for dirty sidewalks or recycling incorrectly.

Through a weird quirk in the law, one of the violations that primarily affects landlords, the rule that prohibits owners from discarding household trash in sidewalk garbage cans, could end up landing a resident with a summons of their own.

“If you put your mail in one of the sidewalk trash cans, you could end up getting a summons mailed to your apartment for putting household trash in the street garbage cans,” Senigo warned. Some of the other lesser-known violations include spitting, obstruction of benches, walking an animal or child in a fenced-in area and unauthorized use of a metal detector.

But Senigo and Del Valle said that most of the violations are straight forward and include rules that New Yorkers are already familiar with, such as those mentioned above and others like littering, failure to clean dog poop or unreasonable noise.

Some of the seniors in attendance at the Sirovich Center event

Del Valle said that of the almost 900,000 summonses issued, about 310,000 went to a hearing and he said that OATH has a 44 percent dismissal rate, meaning that there was a defect in the summons or the agency didn’t have adequate proof of the violation.

Representatives from OATH handed out large magnets for seniors to stick on their fridge that explain the various ways in which residents can fight summonses from enforcement agencies.

According to the magnet from OATH, most summonses issued from the Department of Sanitation, Health, Parks and the NYPD can be dealt with through remote hearing methods, such as by submitting a written defense by mail or through the website, calling the Remote Hearings Unit at (212) 436-0777 or requesting a webcam hearing. Residents can find out more information at nyc.gov/oath or by calling 1-844-OATH-NYC (1-844-628-4692).

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2 thoughts on “Seniors warned: Don’t ignore summonses

  1. Many seniors, not saying all, don’t have a computer or know how to use one.
    Some, with vision issues, may not be able to write a letter themselves either –
    or even see what the summons says to begin with.
    Those with mobility issues will have to go to great inconvenience to get
    to a hearing center – and some with assistance.
    They will rely on someone helping them in a timely way, one would hope.

    Maybe it is not that seniors are ignoring the issue, but have no realistic way to
    respond.

    So far, I havent seen anything helpful in this article.

    • As the article mentions, the Remote Hearings Unit can be reached at (212) 436-0777 to request a remote hearing, or New Yorkers can call the general number for the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings at 1-844-628-4692 for more information about their options. A computer isn’t necessary to request a remote hearing.

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