Rockland County Taking on Slumlords, Tax Delinquent Properties

John Jordan | May 2016

NEW CITY—Rockland County has embarked on an aggressive campaign to compel slumlords to remedy code violations that have forced tenants to live in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. Under Rockland County Executive Ed Day, the county government has also embarked on an effort to expedite the foreclosure process on non-residential tax delinquent properties.

The Rockland Codes Initiative was started one year ago and the results thus far show the initiative has been a success, according to County Executive Day.

“We are getting compliance,” he said. “The landlords know we are not kidding. We are coming after them. And when they realize that, they make the repairs they need to make.”

The initiative allows residents to report unsafe housing conditions through a confidential web-based system. The goal is to force landlords to make repairs.

Day joined Rockland Commissioner of Health Dr. Patricia Schnabel Rupert and Catherine Johnson Southren on May 2nd outside a house at 11 South St. in Haverstraw. The home has two apartments, both of which had numerous dangerous conditions, including broken windows, lack of a second exit, missing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, inoperable plumbing, leaking ceilings, mice and roaches.

The landlord was brought to formal hearings before the Board of Health twice. It wasn’t until the landlord was fined more than $41,000 that the violations were corrected. The tenants now have a safe place to live, county officials stated.

In the first year of the Rockland Codes Initiative: (May 1, 2015-April 29, 2016):

  • 1,238 complaints were received, compared to 836 the year before. (416 complaints received through new, confidential web-based reporting system);
  • 5,802 inspections were conducted, compared to 3,191 the year before;
  • A total of 7,812 violations were issued through the program in its first year, including 2,272 of them deemed critical, life-threatening violations;
  • $453,166.25 in fines were assessed, compared to $53,637 the year before;
  • No tenant was put out on the street as a result of these inspections.

People are living in safer homes. First responders aren’t going blind into a death trap, County Executive Day noted. County government is also working on a Rental Registry that will require landlords with three or more units to register with the county.

RCI staff works with numerous agencies, including DSS, Adult Protective Services, the Sheriff’s Department, the Office of Fire and Emergency Services and others on the effort.

In March, Rockland County Executive Day and County Attorney Thomas Humbach unveiled a new campaign to expedite the foreclosure process for non-residential tax delinquent properties that are confirmed to be vacant. The new policy recognizes that the county is permitted to legally foreclose on land parcels that owe real property taxes in two years instead of three years. The new policy also allows the county to seek foreclosure against property owners who breach pre-arranged installment payment agreements in a timely fashion.

“This new policy will help to alleviate the financial burden that these properties impose on our taxpayers,” said County Executive Day. “Starting this week, we will move aggressively on foreclosures when they become ripe, and not delay unnecessarily.”

County Executive Day made the announcement outside the 208-acre Patrick Farm property in Ramapo, the largest non-residential tax delinquent property in Rockland. Scenic Development, LLC, which owns the Patrick Farm parcels totaling over 150 acres, owed more than $350,000 of tax debt. County Executive Day told Real Estate In-Depth that the owners of Patrick Farms made payment in full to the county on its tax debt shortly after foreclosure proceedings were initiated.

Working with Rockland’s Department of Finance, County Attorney Humbach identified 125 non-residential tax delinquent properties, from Stony Point to Sparkill to Suffern, which owe more than $3.3 million to Rockland County.

“This effort is about turning liabilities into assets,” said County Attorney Humbach. “Controlling the county’s costs involves seeking payment from tax debtors. The county is making every effort to collect money to maintain the funding needed to provide the services the taxpayers demand.”

Properties that have accrued delinquent taxes have negative spillover effects that impact neighboring properties and, when concentrated, entire communities. Research links foreclosed, vacant, and abandoned properties with reduced property values, increased crime, increased risk to public health and welfare and increased costs for municipal governments, he said.

“Today we send a clear message to delinquent property owners that my Administration will seek out money owed to the County of Rockland with vigor and intent using new and innovative approaches,” said Day. “As we work every day to restore the County’s fiscal health, we expect this effort to generate much-needed dollars.”

Day acknowledged Department of Finance Commissioner Stephen DeGroat and his team for their diligence in collecting back taxes. In fact, back tax collections are at record highs.

Rockland County currently offers the option for property owners to enter into a payment plan with the Finance Department so as to avoid the tax title auction process. County Executive Day encourages property owners to take advantage of all the options available to them.

Photo Caption: Rockland County Executive Ed Day (left) and County Attorney Thomas Humbach.

 

 

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth