Queens 101: A QUICK GUIDE
Settling Into The Country’s Most Diverse County
The MetroCard can be a valuable resource for anybody new to Queens.
By Sarah Stanfield
Living in Queens requires three things: getting a driver’s license, finding a safe, legal dwelling, and dealing with its ubiquitous parking tickets.
You should also learn about garbage and recycling laws, how to finance a small business, what jury duty entails, how to pay subway and bus fares, and how to take advantage of the miracle known as 311.
The following is a guide to getting off to a great start in your new borough.
The 311 number was enacted in 2003 to handle non-emergency service calls from New Yorkers. It is accessible 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Services are provided in more than 170 languages.
You can call 311 for just about any non-emergency service request possible. Are you annoyed by garbage trucks loudly rumbling past your apartment at 3 a.m.? Call 311 and they can direct you to the appropriate city agency to register your complaint. Are you having trouble filling out your voter registration card in English? A 311 operator can connect you to someone who speaks your language and walk you through the process. If you are experiencing a true emergency, however, call 911.
Hitting The Road
If you want to drive around Queens, you need to know where to park. Tribune photo by Ira Cohen
If you are a permanent resident of New York, you will need to apply for a driver’s license. It allows you to drive throughout the U.S. and is the most frequently used means of identification in the country.
To get a driver’s license, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) requires that you pass a written test, complete a five-hour pre-licensing course and pass a road test. In order to be issued a license, you will have to present your Social Security Card. If you are not eligible for this card, you will have to provide a letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA) stating this. The letter must have been issued no more than 30 days before the date of your application. You must also provide the DMV the Immigration and Naturalization Service documents that the SSA used to determine that you are not eligible for a Social Security Card.
For more information about applying for a NYS driver’s license, go to www.nydmv.state.ny.us. To contact the SSA, go to www.ssa.gov.
Funding Your Dream
The best way to secure a small-business loan is to establish a good credit record, which will show the lending institution that you pay your bills on time. Apply for a low-interest credit card and make sure to pay your monthly bill in full, which will help you establish good credit. If you can’t get a credit card issuer to approve you because you don’t have a credit history, go to a local bank and apply for a secured credit card, which you secure with your own money.
When applying for a small-business loan, you will be required to prepare a loan/business proposal, which outlines your personal and business background, the type of business you want to run, the amount and purpose of your loan request, your terms of repayment, and how you will repay the loan. For more information, contact the Small Business Administration at www.sba.gov and
The Business Outreach Center in Queens offers free small-business loan counseling at www.bocnet.org/boc/queen7.html.
Recycling of certain materials is mandatory in New York City. You must place paper, beverage cans, bottles, cartons, and metal and foil into specially marked cans that your landlord should provide for you. The paper goes into a green can and the beverage cans, bottles, cartons, and metal and foil go into a blue can. If you live in a single residence, you will be directly responsible for recycling. You’ll need to buy the green and blue garbage cans and order special decals from the Department of Sanitation that will let your garbage man know which type of cans have the paper items and which have the other types of items.
For more detailed information on how to recycle in New York City, visit www.nyc.gov/html/nycwasteless/html/recycling/recycling_nyc.shtml. To find out what day recycling (and regular garbage) gets picked up on your street, go to http://gis.nyc.gov/gisapp/sn/sanitation.jsp.
As for regular trash, it is your responsibility to take out your garbage at least twice a week, because in Queens, that is how many times Sanitation collects garbage. Your landlord will provide the proper receptacles and should direct you to where they are located in your building.
Put all your garbage in a strong plastic bag before placing it in the garbage can. If you live in a single residence, find out your collection days at www.nyc.gov/html/dsny/html/collection/refuse.shtml and place your garbage in the proper cans close to your curb after 4 p.m. the evening before garbage pick-up.
There are a few types of garbage that need to be handled differently from other waste. Items containing CFC (freon) gas, such as freezers, refrigerators, and air conditioners must be collected at a specially scheduled time. To schedule this, call 311. Also, the DOS must schedule very large items for pick up. Again, call 311 to schedule a pick-up time for them.
Parking tickets are usually issued for parking too close to a fire hydrant or bus stop, not obeying alternative-side-of-the-street regulations, and double parking. Fines can range from $35 to $200. For a complete list of all potential parking violations and fines, go to www.nyc.gov/html/dof/html/parking/park_tickets_violations.shtml.
If you get a ticket, which is an orange and white piece of paper usually set under your windshield wipers, you can pay the fine or contest it. If you choose to pay the fine, check the box on the back of the ticket that says you are guilty of the violation and make the check payable to the New York City Department of Finance. It is due 30 days from the date it was received.
If you choose to contest the ticket, check the “not guilty” box on the ticket, send a letter to the DOF explaining why you are not guilty as well as any supporting evidence, and then request an in-person hearing by going to a Finance Business Center in your area with your evidence. For your nearest Finance Business Center, go to www.nyc.gov/html/dof/html/contact/contact_visit.shtml.
For more information on the best type of evidence to back up disputed tickets, go to www.nyc.gov/html/dof/html/parking/park_tickets_common.shtml.
In The Zone
At work, on the street, or in school – like these two girls – immigrants stand,work and live side-by-side with the rest of Queens.Tribune photo by Brian M. Rafferty
As a tenant (which you will likely be when you first come to the United States) in Queens, you should know whether or not the building in which you live meets all the regulations of the Department of Buildings. Go to the department’s Web site at www.nyc.gov/html/dob and click on the Buildings Information System on the left side of the homepage. From there, you can type in your street address and borough and it will bring up a page that tells you if there any active violations in your building. Ideally, you should do this before you rent an apartment.
Virtually every parcel of land in New York City is divided into certain zoning districts, such as residential, commercial and manufacturing zones. You will most likely be affected by residential zoning laws. The neighborhood and, in some cases the street you choose to live, on will be situated in a certain zone. For example, if you live in an R-1 or R-2 zone, this means that the only houses that can be built there are one-family homes.
In many cases, unscrupulous landlords illegally subdivide houses zoned for only one family into several different apartments. If the DOB catches onto this, it is possible that you may be required to evacuate or even vacate the apartment completely. The best way to prevent this from happening is to call the Queens division of the Department of City Planning to find out what zone your building is located in at (718) 286-3170.
A MetroCard, the a pre-paid fare card that you swipe through the subway turnstile or insert into a special machine on the bus to travel in New York City, is one of the most important tools you will need in this city.
The basic fare for a subway or local bus ride is $2. Every subway station has a machine where you can buy the subway card, which can also be used for buses. You can also buy cards that give you more than one ride on the subway and/or the bus. If you buy a card for $10 or more, you will receive a 20 percent bonus.
There are also unlimited MetroCards. These provide unlimited rides for a fixed price. For example, you can purchase a purchase a 30-day unlimited ride pass for $76. For more information on MetroCards, go to www.mta.nyc.ny.us/metrocard.
If you spend more time traveling in the car than the subway and frequently have to pay tolls, you might want to invest in an E-ZPass. It allows you to drive through toll collection booths without having to pay with cash. Drivers pre-pay tolls, which are automatically calculated and deducted from the pre-paid accounts through a small device attached to the interior of the car.
For credit card, cash and check customers, the initial prepaid toll amount of $25 applies to an entire account, which can include up to four vehicles. You can complete an application online at www.e-zpassny.com.