After the I-Team discovered some of the world's biggest banks ignoring millions of dollars in small environmental fines, New York City is starting to collect on the delinquent debt.
According to the city's Department of Finance, banks have paid about half of the more than $3 million in previously ignored fines identified by the I-Team in June.
Most of the penalties are no more than a few hundred dollars for Environmental Control Board violations like dirty sidewalks and unsafe building conditions.
"We really appreciate your bringing this to our attention and we really thank NBC for letting us know," said Jeffrey Shear, a Deputy Finance Commissioner. "We expect everyone to pay."
HSBC is one bank that has resolved most of its debt.
The I-Team identified more than $787,000 in environmental fines assigned to HSBC, but the bank now says it has persuaded two mortgage servicing companies to pay 80 percent of those fines. HSBC says it paid about 12 percent of the penalties directly, and about 8 percent of the penalties remain outstanding.
Among the still unresolved debts are fines for dirty sidewalks and a rodent infestation at 637 E 182nd St, a Bronx building that HSBC foreclosed on last year.
About a month after the I-Team revealed HSBC’s failure to pay those fines, HSBC sold the property, city records show. Even though the fines are still outstanding, neighbors have noticed the building looks much better.
Boards have come off the windows. The lawn has been manicured. A lock has been installed on the gate to keep vagrants out.
"I'm surprised that it got done so fast. Probably if you hadn't reported it, it probably would have never happened," said Helene Van Clief, who lives across the street.
Shear said many of the banks that have yet to resolve their debts are still chasing after mortgage servicing companies, which they believe are responsible for paying the environmental fines.
“We’ve had to tell the banks that, look, it is your name that is on these violations and it is not okay to delegate responsibility to your mortgage servicers,” Shear said.
Shear would not reveal which banks have paid which debts, but said the recovery of $1.5 million dollars in delinquent fines identified by the I-Team is significant progress. He also pointed out overall environmental debt collection is up 20 percent, from $41.5 million in fiscal year 2014 to $50 million in fiscal year 2015.
In one case, Shear said the city threatened to withhold city contracts from a bank that hadn’t paid its environmental fines. He said deadlines are being set for banks to settle their remaining delinquent violations.
"The clock is ticking," Shear said.