Today’s news:

18th Ave. merchants cry foul-Rash of complaints raise questions about validity of claims

A flurry of anonymous 311 calls funneled through to the city Departm ent of Buildings has merchants on the busy 18th Avenue commercial corridor feeling like they are being targeted.

Community Board 11 District Manger Marnee Elias-Pavia said she became aware of the situation after several merchants on 18th Avenue between Bath and New Utrecht Avenues called her office.

“They received quite a few complaints from the DOB, and consequently, inspections generated through 311,” said Elias-Pavia.

“Initially, I thought they were general complaints, but upon inspection of these applications, I found almost every property on 18th Avenue between Bath and New Utrecht had some type of generalized complaint in the system,” she added.

Elias-Pavia said after checking DOB records she found 260 anonymous complaints on 33 buildings along the corridor.

Many of these complaints had to do with defective boilers or bad plumbing, which requires a DOB inspector to come and look at the problem, she said.

Elias-Pavia said that because the complaints were so broad, once the inspectors came they often found something not quite right or not up to current codes.

This will often lead to some type of summons, which must be answered in person before the Environmental Control Board Court, she said.

Elias-Pavia said anonymous calls to 311 are not necessarily a bad thing, but the problem of frequent, anonymous complaints with a particular target should be addressed.

“Or at least there should be a requirement to leave your name to ensure it’s not a false complaint,” she said.

Ken Lazar, a community liaison from the DOB, who was also at the meeting, stated that originally, stores of certain ethnicities seemed to be the targets, but the complaints have since spread to all the merchants.

Elias-Pavia said she has already spoken to the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DOITT), who are charged with operating the 311 system, to review the complaints that came in.

The community board heard that all the complaints came from pay phones in the area and wants possible misuse in the 311 system investigated.

DOITT spokesperson Nicholas Sbordone said the purpose of the 311 system is to be a funnel to ask questions or file a compliant, which then gets communicated to the agency in charge of the particular issue.

“Our idea is to improve access to city services and route them appropriately. We don’t screen calls because that’s bad access. Our job is to take the complaints to the agency that services that complaint and it is incumbent upon them [the agency] to address those complaints as they see fit,” said Sbordone, adding that DOITT receives about 40,000 complaints every day, seven days a week.

Sbordone said like any large endeavor there could be some misuse, which is akin to falsely pulling a fire alarm.

After discussing the issue, CB 11 green-lighted Elias-Pavia to correspond with the city’s Community Affairs Unit and the mayor’s office to see if anything further can be done about the situation on 18th Avenue.

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