Controller Butkovitz Finds Numerous Restaurants Skirt Sidewalk Café Law

For Immediate Release
Oct. 4, 2017

Contact:  Brian Dries

Controller Butkovitz Finds Numerous Restaurants Skirt Sidewalk Café Law
City Controller calls for tougher legislation to ensure safety & welfare

PHILADELPHIA – City Controller Alan Butkovitz today released a review of Philadelphia’s Sidewalk Café Code Compliance and Safety that found 113 establishments around the city with code violations. This accounted for almost a third of the establishments included in the review.

The City Controller’s inspectors visited 363 establishments in various sections of the city that are zoned for sidewalk cafés.  This included businesses with active sidewalk café licenses and some that were inactive because they did not renew their annual license.  There was a total of 218 violations of seven city codes by the violating establishments.

“We have city codes in place to ensure that establishments do not create unsafe areas for diners and pedestrians,” said Controller Butkovitz.  “Sidewalk cafés are a wonderful addition for many bars and restaurants, providing a boost for our local economy.  It is unfortunate that some do not follow the law.”

Of the offenses found, 169 were for code violations in the café such as chairs and tables sitting on ventilation grates, cafés in pedestrian’s travel and furniture too close to the street or transit area.  Another 49 violations were for cafés operating without a valid license.  The Streets Department and Licenses and Inspections (L&I) enforce these codes.

Each citation has a $75 fine, but a location found with no valid license will also have to pay $180 for a license in addition to the citation. The unlicensed cafes represented $12,495 in lost fines and fees while the remaining citations represented $12,675 in lost fines.  The total loss in revenue for the city was $25,170.

“We found instances where establishments were cited, but they continued to operate with the same violations,” said Controller Butkovitz.  “While violators might pay the nominal fee every so often, the fines alone do not appear to be enough of a deterrent.”

The City Controller recommends for City Council to review the codes that were adopted in the City of Sarasota. Along with allowing the city to discontinue a sidewalk café permit in the interest of public health, safety and welfare, it can remove all furniture and hold it until all fines and fees have been paid in full.

“Strengthening Philadelphia’s code to include the removal of furniture by establishments who continually violate our laws and ignore paying fines is one way increase accountability,” said Controller Butkovitz.

According to Controller Butkovitz, the Streets Department and L&I are doing their job to enforce the code.  License fee revenue has increased by 47 percent since FY2011 and the number of code violations issued by the city jumped 480 percent during the same time.

The City Controller also recommends that the Streets Department follow Code guidelines stating that multiple offenders should have their fines increased for each violation after the first offense.  

“This would also deter eateries from becoming habitual offenders of the Code,” said Controller Butkovitz.

“Ultimately, we want our establishments with outdoor seating to thrive throughout our city.  But, more importantly, we need to them operate in a safe manner.”