A pair of street vendors are suing the city over what they say was an unconstitutional seizure and destruction of their property by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. In both instances, the vendors say that health inspectors and cops took their carts from them without giving them a chance to challenge the seizures, and both have been unable to recover their property.

The plaintiffs in the suit against the city are Sanwar Ahmed, an 86-year-old Bangladeshi immigrant who sold a puffed rice snack, and Ana Buestan, a 43-year-old Ecuadorian immigrant who sold flavored ices. Both Ahmed and Buestan claim that while they were selling food from pushcarts, inspectors from the Department of Health seized their carts with help from the NYPD in the summer of 2016 because they were selling their food without a permit. In both cases, neither vendor got a property voucher they could use to recover their seized carts.

According to the lawsuit, when Ahmed attempted to recover his cart, a Department of Health official told his attorney that it might have been thrown away, and the precinct commander at the 115th Precinct where Ahmed's cart was seized told his lawyer that "homemade" carts like his "might be destroyed."

A similar fate befell Buestan when she tried to recover her ices cart, according to the suit. In her case, despite paying a $1,000 summons, neither the police precinct where she was fined nor the court she paid her fine to could locate her cart for her.

Both plaintiffs are being represented by the Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center. Matthew Shapiro, an attorney with the organization, told Gothamist that "we've known for some time" that vendors have their carts seized by the Department of Health with help from the NYPD. For that reason, they filed their lawsuit as a class action, hoping that the city is forced to reveal how many vendors have been affected by this process.

The heart of the matter, according to Shapiro, is that "you can't just take people's property away without giving them a chance to contest that seizure." Whether this destruction of what the city deems "homemade" carts is any kind of unofficial policy or not, Shapiro said that the city has never been forced to justify the fact that it doesn't go through the normal procedures for property seizure. (The issue of property seizure/destruction also attracted public attention recently when the city agreed to reimburse a group of homeless men and women whose property was destroyed by police in East Harlem in 2015.)

Shapiro also suggested that since many of the vendors this happens to don't have permits from the city, the fastest way to fix the problem is for the city to pass legislation that would increase the cap on the number of food vendors citywide.

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages for the destruction of Ahmed and Buestan's property, and a judicial ruling that the city's seizure procedures in this case are unconstitutional.

Asked for comment on the lawsuit, a spokesperson for the city's Law Department told Gothamist "The lawsuit will be reviewed"