Department of Sanitation to take over street-vending enforcement

Starting April 1, the Department of Sanitation will employ dozens of new sanitation police to crack down on illegal vendors. But some street vendors say what they really need is more permits to legitimize their small businesses, instead of being prosecuted.

Some of those vendors took to Lower Manhattan last week, calling for more permits. Right now, there is a cap to the amount of permits granted to vendors while the waitlist for those permits is in the thousands.

"There are only 853 general vendor licenses – 853! That’s the most random, arbitrary number," exclaimed Mohamed Attia, the managing director of the Street Vendor Project.

Perhaps at the epicenter of the street vending debate is downtown Flushing, home to one of the city’s busiest commercial intersections. The sidewalks are so inundated with illegal vendors that Councilwoman Sandra Ung says it's more than a nuisance; it’s also unsafe.

"I need all the city agencies, including NYPD, to be a part of this in order for there to be a real enforcement policy," Ung continued.

Navigating the sidewalks is like an obstacle course. People say the sheer volume of vendors has spiraled so out of control, it’s now a quality-of-life issue.

"Look how crowded it is. Just a sea of people coming at you," one person told us. 

Ung started a petition calling on the city to crack down on the unlicensed vendors and enforce the no-vending zone regulations which were actually put in place back in 2018. But the councilwoman says they haven’t been implemented by the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection effectively.

Eyeglass store owner Daniel Kung agreed the once-a-week sweeps aren’t enough. He says his business is hurting since people can buy cheaper glasses off the street, just steps from his front door.

"I’ve been here for 22 years and my revenue [has shrunk] 50, 60 percent," he complained. "But I still pay the high rent."

Others say the vendors aren’t hurting people.

"I think everybody has to make a living. If the stores need to make money, the stores gotta lower the price," one local offered.

Last week, Mayor Adams responded to Councilwoman Ung’s call when he officially transferred the role from the DCWP to the Department of Sanitation.

Department of Sanitation commissioner Jessica Tisch says that enforcement will use written warnings for first offenses when possible before confiscating any items.