Danny Peña’s mobile car wash setup in Mott Haven. By Mia Hollie.

New law enables the Sanitation Department to regulate the city’s carwasheros.

Unlicensed mobile car washes may soon be scrubbed from New York City’s streets.

A law that took effect last month gives the city’s Department of Sanitation expanded authority to crack down on mobile car wash operators who fail to abide by existing licensing requirements.

The new law places the power to fine unlicensed operators $100 a day – a penalty that already existed under the Car Wash Accountability Law – into the hands of the department, said a spokesperson for City Hall.

Sanitation workers can also seize car wash operators’ vehicles and equipment if they litter, allow noxious liquids to run in the streets or obstruct a fire hydrant. Sanitation can enforce that for all mobile car wash operators, licensed or not.

The Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, the city agency that issues mobile car wash licenses, will launch a six-month awareness campaign within the next few weeks, a department spokesman said. 

The campaign is designed to educate mobile car wash operators about how to obtain a license and warn them of the penalties that will take effect once the department’s campaign ends.

Mobile car wash operators, frequently known as carwasheros, work on street corners and open spaces to provide fast and affordable services to customers looking to clean their cars.

Councilmember Rafael Salamanca Jr., whose South Bronx district includes Melrose and Hunts Point, introduced the bill, while nearly every other council member who represents the Bronx served as a co-sponsor. The full Council passed the bill with near-unanimous approval last December.

Mayor Eric Adams returned the bill to the Council on Jan. 19 without signing it, which allowed it to be automatically adopted the following day. Bills that don’t get signed or vetoed by the mayor within 30 days of being presented become law.

Mobile car washes across the city will soon have to comply with stricter laws governing their operations. By Mia Hollie.

Residents across the borough have been expressing concerns about the car washes for years, from St. Ann’s Avenue in Port Morris to Jerome Avenue in Norwood. In 2023, there were 135 complaints about mobile car washes, according to the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. But at a January meeting of community board 1, some residents argued that carwasheros are making an honest living and government should not interfere.

Danny Peña, who runs a mobile car wash in Mott Haven, was curious about the timing of the bill. The 22-year-old, who started his business three years ago, said nobody had ever told him it could be illegal to operate.   

“The police are always here,” Peña said. “They always say to clean your space. They come here with sanitation and go because everything is clean.”

The 40th Precinct did not respond to a request for comment.

Peña sets up shop on East 137th Street, just across the street from his home in the Mill Brook Houses complex. He does about seven full-vehicle detailing jobs on a good day, he said.

The car wash license application itself could cost an operator as much as $550. Filers must also present proof of a surety bond and insurance for workers’ compensation, disability benefits, commercial general liability and unemployment.

The Department of Consumer and Worker Protection received 18 applications for mobile car washes last year, a spokesperson for the department said.

Peña said he plans to apply for a license soon. For him, operating his car wash serves as a form of job security in a borough where the unemployment rate sits at 6.6 percent, which is higher than both the city’s and state’s rates.

“I don’t wanna be in the street doing dumb s–t,” he said. “I wanna do my own business.”

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