Facing severe financial woes, New York is pursuing
deadbeats who have long seemed to thumb their noses at the city with
impunity, the hundreds of thousands of scofflaws who have accumulated a
total of nearly $700 million in overdue parking fines.
In the world of the city’s parking wars, their
defiance has been something of a longstanding joke: drivers with a stash
of tickets stuffed in their glove compartments.
Payback time, the city says, has arrived.
Using a variety of bludgeons in its arsenal and
enlisting collection agencies, the city is more assertively tracking
down scofflaws to seize their cars or other assets. With a budget gap of
$3.3 billion to close, city officials say every dollar owed New York
"We have not taken anywhere near an aggressive
enough posture to collect this money,” said David M. Frankel, the city’s
finance commissioner, who has made dragooning those who ignore their
tickets a top priority since he started the job last year. "We’re going
to take a much more aggressive stand.”
That includes exercising legal powers the city has never fully deployed.
While the city’s practice was to let overdue fines
accumulate to $800 or more before giving them to collection agencies,
now any amount owed can set off the hunt for payment. The Finance
Department recently sent agencies paperwork for $209 million in
outstanding fines — owed by 446,000 vehicle owners for 1.4 million
tickets — for collection.
Until now, vehicle owners who amassed $350 or more
in parking ticket debts could not renew their registration when it
expired. The city is now inflicting greater pain by not waiting until
the renewal deadline, but instead suspending the registration of any car
owner who is delinquent on at least five violations within 12 months.
The city is also starting to more vigorously pursue
New York drivers who register their cars in states with lower insurance
rates and those who moved away leaving behind unpaid fines.
While it is too early to assess whether the city’s
strong-arm strategy is working, the effort underscores its determination
and financial desperation.
In the past, the city would sometimes allow legal
judgments against scofflaws to languish too long unenforced, Mr. Frankel
said. But with the total of parking fines owed the city climbing to
$680 million since 2002, it was too large a pot of money to leave alone.
Mr. Frankel "was hired to make this agency as
efficient as possible and collect the revenue that is owed,” a
spokesman, Owen Stone, said.
About $440 million is outstanding in judgments for parking tickets
including the $209 million sent to collection agencies several weeks
ago. The city is also seeking judgments against as much as $240 million
more in overdue fines that date to 2002. Under the statute of
limitations, fines are enforceable for eight years.
Most of the major scofflaws are commercial-truck
leasing companies, some of which have gone out of business. But the
city’s list of the top 10 ticket debtors also includes several
individuals, led by Anthony Torres, a 41-year-old airport security worker who lives in Kingsbridge Heights, the Bronx, and who the city says owes $57,526 for parking illegally.
In an interview, Mr. Torres explained that the
tickets were accumulated by a friend who had worked for him for several
years, making deliveries using Mr. Torres’s van. The friend, he said,
moved to the Dominican Republic. Mr. Torres said that the van was
repossessed about two years ago and that while he had been trying to pay
off the overdue parking fines, doing so was difficult because he made
only $7.50 an hour.
"I learned my lesson: Don’t trust your friends,” Mr.
Torres said. "Hopefully, things will turn around and I’ll be able to do
the right thing and pay off my debt.”
The scofflaw list is led by AA Truck Renting in Long
Island City, Queens, which owed $191,643 and is arranging with the city
to pay off pending tickets incurred by its customers. The city can
seize a commercial scofflaw’s assets, just as it can with an individual.
Paul Lanciotti, the company’s controller, said the
double-parkers were not the company’s employees, but rather its
customers. But Mr. Lanciotti acknowledged, "Ultimately we are
responsible because we are the registered owner.”
The breakdown of vehicles registered to New York
scofflaws who were ticketed in 2010, and against whom a judgment was
entered as of Aug. 1, was led by passenger vehicles ($19,625,892),
followed by commercial vehicles ($2,134,841), taxis ($949,065) and
rented vehicles ($273,987).
The city can seek a judgment from an administrative
law judge against an owner who fails to pay or to appeal a ticket after
90 days. The judgment, which can be enforced by city marshals and the
, empowers the city to garnishee wages or seize assets to satisfy the debt.
Of the $440 million in administrative law judgments
already entered against scofflaws, $354 million is from vehicles with
passenger plates, $34.5 million from those with commercial plates and
$51.2 million from vehicles with a variety of special plates, including
taxis, rental cars, voluntary ambulances and public officials. About
$150 million of the $440 million is owed on vehicles with out-of-state
license plates, more than half of which is owed by plate holders from
New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
But the city is also owed $11 million from Florida
vehicles, $9.3 million from North Carolina, $6.7 million from
Massachusetts, $5 million from Virginia, $4.6 million from Georgia, $4.1
million from Maryland and $2.6 million from South Carolina.
Of the roughly 10 million tickets processed annually
by the Finance Department, 5 percent — about 500,000 — are deemed not
"processable,” meaning the owner or vehicle cannot be identified or
found because the ticket was illegible, information was entered
incorrectly or some other problem was involved.
Of the rest, about 60 percent are paid, 14 percent
are dismissed after an owner presents evidence and 15 percent are
reversed after an owner appeals a ticket that was not dismissed. In any
given year, about 6 percent of fines are never paid.
"We’re going to do everything we can to find them,” Mr. Frankel, the finance commissioner, said.
The city’s forceful campaign against scofflaws is a
combination of policy changes and computer databases that make debtors
easier to find. "We are analyzing data, building models and reforming
processes that in some cases have been in place for decades,” said Mr.
Stone, the Finance Department spokesman.
Some states were charging the city $9 for a driver’s
address, but the city is making greater use of collection agencies that
can do the job — tracking down the scofflaw and demanding payment — for
less. As a result, the city now has access to registration data from
all 50 states, including those where pursuing vehicle owners seemed too
"For years, the tax collector was viewed as the
horrible Sheriff of Nottingham,” Mr. Frankel said. "That’s not what
we’re doing. We’re trying to protect people who are doing what they are
supposed to do from a smaller group of people who say, ‘Come find us.’ ”