City Fines Multiplied as Chinese Shop Owner Struggled to Understand

For immigrant business owners who are not fluent in English, navigating New York City’s system of rules and regulations can be daunting, to say the least.

World Journal reported on a Chinese-owned fabric and toy store in Sheepshead’s Bay, Brooklyn, where the owner faced rapidly increasing fines from the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs.

Meijao Chi, the store’s owner, was fined for selling toy guns and slippers. City laws require that toy guns to be painted bright colors, to differentiate them from real guns.

One fine led to another and, because of the language barrier, Chi misunderstood what fines she was required to pay and missed a court hearing, World Journal reported:

“Towards the end of August 2011, an agent from New York City Department of Consumer Affairs issued two citations,” Meijao Chi said. “One citation was a $125 fine for unregistered merchandise, and another citation was for the toy guns.  The agent at that time did not say how much the total amount would be for the fines.  The next day, the second citation ticket was mailed to the store.”

Chi, who does not speak English, paid a $125 fine, thinking that doing so would take care of the two citations.  That only covered one citation, however, and the other citation remained unresolved.  Later on, she received a court appearance notice and disregarded it.  Two months later, she received a $5,000 fine.

Feeling helpless, Chi reached out to Sam Tsang, a Chinese member of Community Board 15, for assistance.  Tsang explained the incident to Community Board 15 and went to the Department of Consumer Affairs to explain that the store owner’s lack of English resulted in her failure to appear in court.  At the end, Tsang was able to get the fine reduced to $900.

According to Chi, her store had previously only sold fabrics, but because of poor sales, she started to sell toy guns. The toy guns are only priced at $5 each, but they ended up costing $5,000, which was quite confusing, Chi said.  Because the store did not put a price tag on each pair of slippers, the store was fined with $125.  In addition, on January 19th, the Department of Sanitation issued her a fine of $100 for putting merchandise on the sidewalk. Chi said that her merchandise did not reach the sidewalk.  With Tsang’s help, that fine was also cancelled.

Tsang advised business owners who don’t speak English not to be silent when faced with confusing fines.  He suggested reaching out to community board members or elected officials for help in cancelling or reducing the fines.  He also reminded Chinese business owners to follow the laws and not sell toy guns.

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  1. Pingback: City Fines Mount As Language Barrier Confounds Avenue U Shop Owner | Sheepshead Bay News Blog

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