Rockland County’s Codes Initiative Now Targets Multifamily Properties

John Jordan | March 2017

Haverstraw Mayor Michael Kohut, Rockland Commissioner of Health Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, Rockland County Executive Ed Day and Rockland Deputy Commissioner of Health Catherine Johnson Southren.

HAVERSTRAW—Rockland County Executive Ed Day has a simple but stern warning to landlords who operate illegal apartment units: “We are coming to get you and when we find you it is not going to be a simple matter of a $250 fine. The fine is going to be significant.”

As part of a multifaceted codes initiative, Rockland County Executive Day announced on March 29 that the county’s “Multiple Dwelling Rental Registry” website had gone live at http://rocklandgov.com/departments/health/housing/multiple-dwelling-rental-registry. The registry requires owners of properties with three more units to register with the county’s Department of Health and provide a certificate of occupancy and other information. Those found not in compliance with the county sanitary code could face fines of up to $2,000 per day until the violations are corrected.

At the press conference held at a well-maintained eight-unit multifamily property on Clove Avenue in Haverstraw, Day and other county officials detailed the rationale behind the launch of the Multiple Dwelling Rental Registry and the goals for the new program.

Rockland County landlords will have to pay $25 per unit to register. Once they register, the Rockland County Department of Health will issue a Rental Registry Certificate. Property owners who do not have the certificate will be given a chance to get one. If they fail to comply in a certain time period, they will face fines of up to $2,000 per day under the county’s sanitary code.

Day said that most county multifamily landlords do comply with county code regulations, however, the county is asking all property owners with three or more units to voluntarily register online. County officials said the Department of Health’s probe of landlords not in compliance would rely heavily on investigating complaints rather than targeting any municipalities or known problem areas in the county.

“We have ongoing problems with some landlords who are taking advantage of a tight market and vulnerable tenants to collect rents on substandard housing—that is unacceptable,” the county executive said. “We will not tolerate safe, unsanitary housing. We will not put up with landlords that prey on their tenants.”

Also participating in the press event were: Haverstraw Mayor Michael Kohut, Rockland Commissioner of Health Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert and Rockland Deputy Commissioner of Health Catherine Johnson Southren, who is also head of the Rockland Codes Initiative (RCI) program. Mayor Kohut said Haverstraw has run a successful rental registry program for the past four years.

In his warning to landlords with illegal units, Day noted that the Department of Health employs well-qualified inspectors, including former homicide detectives. “They are skilled and trained in finding out certain things, such as past transactions,” Day said. “We are not resistant to working with the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance or the IRS to go after landlords. So if you are thinking of making a few extra bucks as a landlord in Rockland County and doing it in an improper way—think twice.”

Day said that the multifamily rental registry’s main goal is not collecting revenue from fines, but to increase compliance with the county building code and provide safe, healthy housing. He noted that while municipalities have jurisdiction over zoning and building codes, the county can seek to correct substandard multifamily dwellings via the county sanitary code.

The county’s multifamily registry is the fourth part of the ongoing Rockland Codes Initiative. Phase one involved stepped up enforcement of the Rockland County Sanitary Code. The second phase was the launch of a website (http://rocklandgov.com/departments/health/housing/rockland-codes-initiative) that features a confidential form that people can use to report unsafe housing. The third phase was the inauguration of “Rockland County’s Worst Landlord Watch List.”

In 2016, the Rockland Codes Initiative received almost 1,200 complaints. A total of 6,574 violations, a third of which were deemed critical, life-threatening safety violations, were cited by county inspectors and more than $500,000 in fines were assessed.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth