Frequently Asked questions about doh inspections and tribunal hearings

Disclaimer: the views, opinions, links, and advice expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the City of New York ("NYC"), the Office of Administrative Trials & Hearings ("OATH") Hearings Division, NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene Bureau of Food Safety & Community Sanitation ("DOH"), or any other public or private entity.  Forms available for download are linked whenever possible to an outside origin; otherwise, forms have been scanned & uploaded onto the Bulletproof website for your convenience only.  All information is known to be current as of January 4, 2016.

1. How many points is an 'A' letter grade?  0 - 13 points is an 'A' grade, 14 - 27 points is a 'B' grade, and 28 - 50 points is a 'C' grade.  More than 50 points generally results in closure, depending on the nature of the violations assessed.

2. When can I expect to be reinspected? This is the perennial question!  If you've received 13 or fewer points on your initial inspection, then you also received an 'A' letter grade, you don't have a hearing to attend and no fines to pay... and you can expect on a new inspection from the DOH in about 10 to 12 months.  If you've received 14 to 27 points, the DOH will be back in about 5 to 7 months.  And if your inspection score was 28 to 50 points, then the DOH will reinspect in about 2 to 5 months.  If the nature of the violations were extreme enough to warrant closure, then a new inspection must be conducted before your establishment can be reopened by the DOH.  If your score was worse on your reinspection than it was on the first inspection, then the next (or second) inspection will be timed from the initial inspection but based on the second inspection's score.  The frequency of inspections is designed to uphold the public health, and the DOH reserves the right to inspect as frequently as necessary to ensure that your establishment is in compliance with the Health Code.  Which means that the above time frames can & will be adjusted based on the DOH's knowledge of your establishment or other criteria, such as repeat violations or foodborne illness complaints.

3. The inspector told me that the DOH would be back in 7 days?  You may have misunderstood.  Unless there is an imminent health hazard, the DOH cannot return to an establishment before 7 days have passed.  In other words, the 7 days is your opportunity to correct any issues that the inspector cited on your initial inspection.  The DOH can return on Day 8 or Month 8, or anywhere in between.  We often get phone calls saying, "the inspector said they'd be back in 7 to 10 days, it's day 12 and no sign of them."  The first DOH inspector has absolutely no idea when the next DOH inspector will visit your establishment.  The inspection schedule is a secret even to the inspectors!  And the unannounced nature of DOH inspections keeps both inspectors and restaurant operators honest and promotes regular compliance with the Health Code, rather than just compliance when you know the inspector is coming.

4. How do I find out if this is an initial or a second cycle inspection?  Take a look at your Notice of Violation, which is the inspection report that the inspector left for you.  Locate the Docket or Summons number on the first page of the report: a Docket or Summons number ending with "F0" is an initial inspection.  A Docket or Summons number ending with "F1" is the second inspection.  

5. Can you explain the "inspection cycle"? Sure.  The initial cycle inspection occurs, which determines when the DOH will return.  If you get an 'A' on the initial inspection cycle, then the DOH will return in a year (plus or minus).  If you don't get an 'A', then the DOH will be back a lot sooner and conduct a second cycle inspection.  See # 2 (above) for more details.

6. If I didn't get an 'A' on the first, inspection, how soon should I call a consultant such as Bulletproof to help me fix any issues identified in the inspection? As soon as possible!  Food safety consultants are surprisingly busy, and it may take upwards of a week to schedule a visit to or walk-through of your restaurant.

7. What happens if I don't display my "B" or "C" grade in the window?  Does the DOH really come around and check to see if they are in every window?  Inspectors reserve the right to stop and inspect any establishment where they do not see the letter grade card displayed, or where it is displayed but obscured (by another sign, a plant, a bench, etc).  Fines for this violation are $1,000 (not displayed) or $500 (obscured).  The "grade card inspection" may or may not lead to a full inspection.  And despite not seeing your grade card, customers can still find the results of your most recent DOH inspection online by typing in your restaurant name into the DOH search engine.  That website is available here: http://a816-restaurantinspection.nyc.gov/RestaurantInspection/SearchBrowse.do

8. I heard that OATH Health Tribunal has its own FAQ.  Where can I find it?  There is a comprehensive resource here: http://www.nyc.gov/html/oath/html/health-tribunal/faq.shtml or check out the shorter paper handouts in PDF here and here.

9. My Tribunal is at 1:30pm, but that means I'll miss lunch service.  What are my options? You basically have three options: first option is to adjourn the hearing and request a specific time in the comments section of the online adjournment, available here.  As of July 1, 2015, you only get one adjournment. Your second options is to hire a consultant, such as Bulletproof!, to represent your establishment at the hearing. And your third option is to roll the dice: show up early and hope that your hearing will be conducted early & that you can return for lunch service.

10. I have a hearing for my F0 inspection.  Will I receive an 'A' letter grade if the judge dismisses enough violations?  No.  You only have the opportunity to receive an 'A' letter grade on your next inspection.  The Tribunal will only issue letter grades for F1 inspections which receive 13 or fewer points after being adjudicated.

11. Okay, now I have a hearing for my F1 (or "graded") inspection.  Will I receive an 'A' letter grade if the judge dismisses enough violations? Yes.  If the judge agrees with your meritorious defenses against the inspector's allegations and dismisses enough violations for an 'A' grade, you'll receive that 'A' grade at the Tribunal after the decision has been given to you.  

12. Wait... I didn't get an 'A' letter grade at the hearing!  What now?  Sorry to hear.  You are now required to remove the 'Grade Pending' card and post the 'B' or 'C' letter grade card which was given to you during your graded inspection.  You also have the right to appeal the decision after the fines have been paid.  The appeals process and online appeal form can be found here: http://www.nyc.gov/html/oath/html/health-tribunal/faq.shtml#how_appeal 

13. When will the results from the hearing be changed on the NYC Restaurant Inspection website?  This typically takes 7 to 10 business days.

14. Okay, great.  Now I've appealed the hearing.  When will I hear back? Although you may have filed online, you will actually get the Appeal Decision in the mail in 3 months or less.  Yes, you read that right: 3 months.

15. So I know that I can represent myself at the Tribunal hearing, but how much can I expect to save by hiring a consultant such as Bulletproof rather than just going to the hearing myself? Consultants typically save $200 to $1,000 off the maximum fines.

16. How long do I have to pay the fines after an OATH Health Tribunal hearing?  You have 30 days to pay the fines if you received the decision at the Tribunal, or 35 days to pay the fines if the decision was mailed to you.  Honestly, if I were you, I'd pay the fines within 20 days because your check will be mailed to a lockbox and it often takes a few days for the good people of OATH to process your payment and post it to the Docket or Summons number.  By the way, it's extremely important that your Docket or Summons number be written on the check, otherwise the amount will not be credited to your establishment and the fines will be listed as outstanding.

17. Can I pay by credit card? Yes, you can.  You can pay online at https://a858-elpaca.nyc.gov/CitizenAccess/ or in person only in Manhattan (66 John St, 11th Floor) or Brooklyn (9 Bond Street, 6th Floor).  Ironically, NYC charges a 2.49% fee for credit card transactions.  Last I checked, it was illegal for restaurants to charge a fee for credit card transactions, but I guess that law doesn't apply to the City.

18. Is there a late fee? Before July 1, 2015, there was a late fee of $50 per month, but the new rules only state that there is the possibility of interest or penalties being assessed to late payments.  So what does that mean? It means you should pay ASAP to avoid any additional fees.

19. Apparently, I have outstanding fines or fees to pay because I cannot renew my permit.  What now? Using your CAMIS ID# and the business entity name of your establishment (the corporate name, not the DBA), ask a cashier in Manhattan or Brooklyn to print out a list of outstanding fines and/or pay the fines at the time of request.  That will let you know where your establishment stands with regards to unpaid penalties for different Dockets or Summonses.

20. Where can I find my CAMIS ID number? It's also known as the Record ID number and is located on your Food Service Establishment permit.