NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Could it be a sign of the times?

Small business owners are being fined for the messaging above their stores.

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But why?

On Tuesday, CBS2’s Clark Fouraker went to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where some are worried the fines will put them under.

United Hardware’s sign has been up longer than Mike Sinno, a second-generation owner, has been alive. But in what came as new news to him, the sign doesn’t have a permit.

“The building department came and they said you have an illegal sign up. They give you a piece of paper and then in the mail a month later you get a fine for $6,000,” Sinno said.

Small business owners in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, are upset over the large fines they are receiving from the city for signs they have put up. (Photo: CBS2)

Sinno said that’s three times the cost of the sign marking the store on 3rd Avenue. No, there’s no crackdown on non-permitted signs across the city. Some anonymous caller to 3-1-1 is reporting entire city blocks as being non-permitted.

City law requires the Department of Buildings to investigate.

“I don’t understand why the city would be fining small businesses for something that is not any danger,” City Councilman Justin Brannan said.

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To avoid the possibility of a fine, some businesses have just taken their large signs down, like the Melissa Nail Spa, which has put up a small banner instead.

Other stores, like a nail salon and dry cleaners, haven’t put anything up at all. They said the potential fine is too much.

“Now it’s going to look worse and the businesses are going to suffer because it looks like there’s a vacant store there,” Bay Ridge resident Rebecca Maroney said.

The Department of Buildings said permits are necessary to prevent certain situations, like when an awning in Bay Ridge came crashing down on two women standing on the sidewalk. But in this case, safety’s not the issue. It may be about drumming up business.

“We have some suspicion that it might be some sign companies. The same way that you’ll hear about the guy at the auto glass store breaks a bunch of car windows and the next thing you know he’s got a line out the door,” Brannan said.

The Department of Buildings usually gets 900 complaints a year, but this year has nearly 1,900. Approximately 1,000 of those are in Bay Ridge alone.

Sinno said the fix will ultimately cost some $15,000, an unexpected and unbelievable sign of the times.

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Sinno said he’s happy to pay the $100 permit fee that had not been previously paid. Councilman Brannan said he’s working on a moratorium on the fines so businesses can be brought into compliance.