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New York restaurants eager to see health department fines reduced

The City Council is considering lowering fines for non-food violations, such as having a broken tile.

Restaurants are desperate for a break from the city's aggressive health code fines — and they may get one soon.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn is considering legislation that could lower the fines for some non-food related violations at eateries.

Restaurant advocates hope this would relieve some stress from the letter grade system, which many restaurant owners despise but diners say is helpful.

Councilman Peter Vallone said today he supported Quinn's efforts to cut back fines for non-health violations like water on the floor and busted tiles, which can cost eatery owners as much as $1,200.

"Heavy fines for violations which have nothing to do with health
concerns, like slightly broken tiles or three drops of water on the
floor, can shut down a healthy business," said Vallone.



Andrew Moesel, spokesman for the New York State Restaurant Association, told Metro the Council has been reviewing suggestions he and others have made, which include lowering both fines and points for the non-food violations.

The A, B and C letter grades are given out based on a 1,200-point system. Right now, Quinn's legislation would only relieve the fines given out for violations. It would not reduce the points.

Restaurant owners complain that these violations contribute to lower letter-grade ratings – and fewer customers.

“When you see a B or a C, a restaurant is still sanitary enough to serve the public, but a lot of people see that and they think the conditions are incredibly unclean in the kitchen, which is oftentimes not the case at all,” Moesel said.

Instead, he said, restaurants are penalized for things like not having proper refrigerator ventilation.

“The system now is very punitive,” Moesel said. “It’s quite strict.”

Quinn has previously supported simplifying the letter grades, like adopting the 100-point system Los Angeles uses, and has noted that even restaurateurs with A grades dislike the ratings. Other politicians, like Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, also criticized what they call the city’s excessive fining. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who could veto any bill to change fines, supports the letter-grade system.

"It would be fantastic to see the violations go down, especially because a significant number of violations are based on non-food related matters,” said James DiPasquale, a lawyer who represents restaurants.

“My clients would absolutely love that,” he added, but cautioned, “I just don’t see how that would ever be approved.”

Hefty fines


Other than for food violations, such as having milk out at a too-warm temperature, here are some of the other things NYC restaurant owners can be fined for:

Not having shatterproof bulbs

Broken tiles

Dented cans

Refrigerator ventilation

Location of a drain

Water on the floor

Fines for all those violations can range anywhere from $500 to $1,200.

 
 
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