Salted fish, puppet shows, and spitting: Strange ways to break the law in NYC

Posted On Mon, October 22, 2018 By

Posted On Mon, October 22, 2018 By In City Living, Features, Policy

Via WNYC/Flickr

New York may be known around the world as a city where anything goes, but in fact, the NYC is home to a long list of unusual, and in some cases, archaic laws that suggest the opposite may hold true. Most of these laws—with the exception of those concerning postering—are not readily enforced, but they are technically still on the books. As for the consequences of breaking some of the city’s more peculiar laws, they run the gamut from small fines of $25 to jail time up to thirty days.

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Engage in reckless roller skating

If you do roller skate, and you’re thinking about taking your roller-derby moves onto city streets, think again. Title 19 of the New York City Administrative Code covers transportation, and section 176.1 specifically addresses the “reckless operation” of roller skates, along with similar items such as in-line skates and skateboards. While “no person shall engage in the reckless operation of roller skates,” the good news is that the consequences are minor. Any person found guilty of the reckless operation of roller skates “shall be subject to a fine of not less than fifty dollars nor more than one hundred dollars.” But do you really want to pay a $100 fine for busting your best roller skate moves in the middle of Sixth Avenue?

Repeatedly spit on the sidewalk

If you spit in public, be forewarned that your bad habit could be costly. Under Title 16, subsection 16-118, of the New York City Administrative Code, it is clearly stated, “No person shall spit upon a sidewalk of a street or public place, or on a floor, wall or stairway of any public or private building or premises used in common by the public, or in or on any public transportation facility.” While initial fines are low (only $75), if you keep spitting, watch out.  A third offense in the same year could set you back up to $450.

Hold a puppet show or ballet performance in a store window

Title 10, Chapter 1 of the New York City Administrative Code addresses public safety. While most sections of the code are predictable (e.g., don’t deface a house of worship), under the same title, there are also a few peculiar regulations, including one focused on public puppet shows and other performances. As stated, “It shall likewise be unlawful for any person, from any window or open space of any house, or building, to exhibit to the public upon the street, or the sidewalk thereof, any performance of puppet or other figures, ballet or other dancing, comedy, farce, show with moving figures, play or other entertainment.” Worse yet, the consequences for transgressing this law are no laughing matter. As stated in section 10-114, naughty puppeteers and ballerinas “shall be punished by a fine of not more than twenty-five dollars, or imprisonment for thirty days, or both.”

Put up a lost cat poster

Apartment life isn’t for all cats, and this likely explains why cats, even those living in loving homes, sometimes choose to escape. In most cases, what happens next is a desperate search for Smokey, Mallory, or Mr. Paws, and naturally, a photocopied poster plastered around the neighborhood is a great way to start searching in earnest for one’s lost cat. The problem is that once you put up a poster, you’re technically breaking the law. As stated in Title 10, Chapter 1 of the New York City Administrative Code (subsection 10-117), “No person shall write, paint or draw any inscription, figure or mark or affix, attach or place by whatever means a sticker or decal of any type on any public or private building or other structure or any other real or personal property owned, operated or maintained by a public benefit corporation, the city of New York or any agency.” Unlike some of the city’s other peculiar laws, this law is occasionally imposed and violators can face criminal fines or civil penalties. In the late 1990s, for example, as the city was also aggressively cracking down on graffiti, roughly 1,000 postering violations were being issued every month. While somewhat arbitrarily enforced, this is one peculiar law that New Yorkers do need to take seriously into account.

Shave on the ferry

New York City’s ferry service continues to gain fans and expand, but don’t get too comfortable. While it might be tempting to do your morning ablutions in a restroom on the ferry—for example, to shave while ferrying from Greenpoint to Midtown before work—if you do, you’ll technically be breaking the law. Similarly, if you’re on your way home from work and think the ferry might be a good place to slip out of your work uniform and into your party clothes, think again. As stated in Title 34, Chapter 1, subsection 1-02, “No person shall bathe, shower, shave, launder or change clothes or remain undressed in any public restroom, sink, washroom or any other area in the terminals or on the ferries.”

Prepare or sell baccalà

Under Title 24, Chapter 9 of the New York City Administrative Code (subsection 9-02) preparing and selling salt-cured fish is apparently also a local no-no in New York City. As stated, “Ready-to-eat raw, whole, uneviscerated, salt-cured, air-dried fish, which may or may not be lightly smoked and is commonly sold under the names ‘kopchonka,’ ‘ribeyza,’ ‘rostov,’ and ‘rybetz’ is hereby determined and declared to be ‘unfit for food’”. This, however, is a law that doesn’t appear to be strictly enforced. On Yelp, a search for salted cod reveals dozens of fish shops and even established grocery stores where one can purchase this “unfit for food” product, so if you’re a fan of dishes that carry salted fish, there is probably no reason to worry.

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