dumping grounds

East Brooklyn Drives Surge in Abandoned Vehicle Complaints

An abandoned car sits on a Brownsville, Brooklyn residential block, Sept. 1, 2019.
An abandoned car sits on a Brownsville, Brooklyn residential block, Sept. 1, 2019. Photo: Jason Scott Jones/THE CITY

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Streets in a swath of eastern Brooklyn are increasingly doubling as dumping grounds for vehicles, according to city figures.

An analysis by THE CITY of 311 data over the last five years shows complaints about abandoned cars in Canarsie, East New York, Brownsville and nearby neighborhoods have surged.

Last year, the city Department of Sanitation tagged more abandoned vehicles in those areas for towing than anywhere else in the five boroughs.

“It’s a huge problem and it’s getting worse,” said Councilmember Alan Maisel, whose Brooklyn district includes Canarsie, Mill Basin and Flatlands. “People are just dumping their cars here.”

Meanwhile, complaints about abandoned vehicles have jumped citywide, with more than 76,000 last year — up from nearly 29,000 in 2014, according to 311 data.

The increase is especially striking in Brooklyn’s eastern reaches, where automobiles lacking license plates — and sometimes parts — are commonplace sights.

Residents and elected officials say the vehicles deposited on city streets take up parking spaces, block alternate-side street cleaning and are eyesores that can linger for days — or far longer. In some cases, vehicles are tagged with “For Sale” signs, as makeshift car dealers turn streets into sales lots.

‘It’s Out of Control’

“I can’t keep my street clean, because they always abandon the cars here,” said Linda Giudice, 71, who spotted a Lexus without license plates parked last week outside her house on Farragut Road in Canarsie.

“I’m always complaining because these cars bother me. It’s out of control.”

Officials acknowledge that some of the vehicles, especially in neighborhoods that are home to auto repair and body shops, are stashed by businesses operating on nearby streets.

“In front of places where people live, it gets annoying,” said Nicholas Horsford, 17, of Canarsie. “Sometimes, my dad doesn’t have a place to park in front of our house.”

Last year, according to 311 data, there were nearly 27,000 complaints about derelict vehicles on Brooklyn streets — almost three times as many as in 2014.

“The city needs to do something. In the same way that you don’t want abandoned buildings, you don’t want abandoned cars,” said Roll Alleyne, 67, who works in Canarsie. “It’s unhealthy, especially in residential areas.”

Yet the number of vehicles annually tagged for removal in the borough has risen little in that time, city records show, with just 3,754 flagged in 2018. Citywide, 9,022 cars got slapped with a Sanitation sticker last year.

And fewer than half of tagged cars will actually be towed, Sanitation statistics show.

While Brooklyn tagging-for-towing stalls, other boroughs are seeing hikes in vehicles marked by Sanitation for removal. Community District 10 in the eastern Bronx, an area that includes Co-op City and Throgs Neck, logged the biggest increase in tags citywide since 2014, rising from just 25 in 2014 and zooming up to 141 last year.

Improv Used Car Lots

The Sanitation Department defines a “derelict vehicle” as one without license plates that has sustained damage and been left unattended on a city street. Decades ago, those abandoned vehicles were a symbol of New York’s decay.

“In the bad old days of 1988, we picked up more than 148,000 vehicles,” Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia told THE CITY. “It is still orders of magnitude less than it used to be.”

By 1998, the number of derelict vehicles removed from city streets had fallen to 16,242. Towed abandoned vehicles hit a low of 2,156 citywide in 2013, and have been on the uptick since.

Since 2014, no section of the city had more derelict vehicles flagged for removal than the neighborhoods in Brooklyn Community District 5, which includes East New York and Cypress Hills. The area had 3,121 derelict vehicles readied for towing in the last five years, including 867 in 2018 alone.

“We get calls about this all the time,” said Melinda Perkins, district manager for Community Board 5. “Just recently, we got a call from someone who had a vehicle without plates parked in front of her home for four months and she had no idea who it belonged to.”

“The only thing that we can do is report it to the Sanitation Department or to our local precinct.”

The Sanitation Department said a vehicle must meet its derelict vehicle criteria before being tagged for removal, which is supposed to happen within three days. The city contracts with three different towing companies to remove derelict vehicles, which are then scrapped.

“There are some pretty strict constraints about what may be considered a derelict vehicle,” Garcia said.

Many of the 311 complaints concern vehicles without license plates that have no visible damage, yet are stashed on streets bearing “For Sale” signs.

“These are dealerships who don’t have legitimate business and are storing cars on the side of the road,” said City Councilmember Rafael Espinal, whose district includes East New York and Brownsville. “It’s hard to track who they are and it’s creating a lot of frustration.”

Complaints rejected by Sanitation fall to the NYPD to investigate — and typically yield no result, say local civic leaders.

“By the time the police even gets to the matter, the car has been moved by what seems to be a car-selling cartel, to another parking spot in the area,” said Joy Simmons, chief of staff for East New York City Councilmember Inez Barron. “And the process starts all over again and the cars rarely get towed.”

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