ATHENS – Yet again, city officials said they will try to stop restaurants and taverns from taking over public sidewalks with restaurants and tables blocking pedestrians after previous alleged crackdowns did almost nothing to stop it.
This time, Athens’ inspectors were checking cafes, bars and restaurants around the city center to to after violators, Kathimerini said, although it wasn’t reported how it would be enforced, with fines or suspensions or closings as the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA has moved to require even health inspectors to notify facilities they are coming, alerting them.
“The effort is geared toward ensuring that everyone gets what they merit in terms of public space,” said Deputy Mayor Andreas Varelas, who is in charge of the city center and the Municipal Police.
It’s his job to make sure proprietors abide by the space rental agreement they have with the city that allows them to take up public sidewalks if they pay for it, even though it means people have to skirt around the tables and chairs or walk in the street. It wasn’t reported how much the facilities pay or how much the city takes in nor how many violators use space without paying.
He said it’s been difficult to enforce the law because the Municipal Police force has been cut from 1,200 officers in 2013 to only 390, which he said isn’t enough to walk around the city center and check for violators.
In July, 2017, city officials said rent-evading restaurants, bars and cafes using sidewalks and public places for tables and chairs would face another crackdown, starting with the confiscation of property at one of the city’s oldest establishments in the wealthy neighborhood of Kolonaki.
The facilities routinely are allowed to break the law and use public spaces for their private use without fines, penalties or intervention from inspectors until now. There have been a number of similar crackdowns before, all quickly abandoned after restaurants and taverns ignored them.
Varelas said the owner of the restaurant that wasn’t identified had its property seized because it owed 415,000 euros in unpaid rent to use the space, going back to 2012.
“In order to have tables and chairs he must pay his debts or come to some sort of installment arrangement before a new license is issued,” he said, adding that it is unfair that citizens have their properties confiscated for debts of as little as 1,000 euros, while businessmen making huge profits were getting away with paying nothing, the paper said.
He insisted though that the non-payment of rent debts to the city was not the rule. “There are many (proprietors) that do pay their dues,” he said, adding that most businesses in Omonia Square have a good record. He didn’t explain though why the city is owed 325 million euros ($370.94 million) if most businesses are paying.