Day Launches Aggressive Housing Codes Initiative
John Jordan | May 2015
NEW CITY—Rockland County Executive Ed Day unveiled on April 30th the “Rockland Codes Initiative,” a sweeping effort to combat illegal housing and overcrowding in the county.
The first phase of the initiative will utilize the broad powers of the Rockland County Department of Health to improve the local housing supply for all economic segments of the community, county officials stated.
“The health and safety of all residents in Rockland County is the highest priority of my administration,” said Rockland County Executive Day. “Code enforcement is essential for creating an environment that preserves the quality of life for our people, while attracting private investment in our towns and villages.”
As part of the effort, the Health Department will oversee the Unified Neighborhood Inspection Team. The UNIT will confirm various neighborhood concerns through property inspections, surveys and comprehensive investigations of possible sanitary code violations.
Highly experienced UNIT members will respond to complaints submitted to the Health Department and work diligently with the Board of Health to resolve the issues. Remedies may include substantial fines for offending property owners, referrals to departments and agencies within local government and assisting residents in need of housing and/or health guidance.
The Rockland Codes Initiative will utilize the broad powers of the county’s sanitary code to inspect dwellings and issue violations.
Phase one of the Rockland Codes Initiative consists of four individual components:
A web-based complaint form on which individuals will confidentially report suspected illegal housing or unsafe living conditions. This process, with a few simple questions, will walk complainants through the steps required to report a specific property and the nature of problems observed.
The new online form, which includes photo uploading capability, prompts the user to include basic complaint information so they can be easily contacted for follow-up. Complaints are automatically routed to the RCI coordinator for logging and consideration for investigation. Telephone complaints regarding suspected unsafe living conditions will continue to be received by the Health Department at (845) 364-2585. All complaints are kept strictly confidential and never disclosed to the owner of the premises.
The online complaint form can be found at RocklandGov.com under “Rockland Codes Initiative.”
Rockland County’s Worst Landlord Watch List
The Rockland Codes Initiative will use digital and social media to expose the landlords and building managers behind some of the county’s most dangerous and dilapidated residential buildings. Rockland County’s Worst Landlords Watch List is the first online resource allowing local tenants and neighbors to learn the identities of the most egregious offenders and to view the number of code violations for a specific property. The Watch List is available online at RocklandCodesInitiative.net
In a press announcement, Rockland County officials stated that The Watch List’s worst offender today is property manager Yaniv Razak, who is associated with several different homes, owned by various limited liability companies, including Metallic Sunburst, LLC.
Multiple Dwelling Registry Law
The purpose of the law is to ensure the health and safety of tenants. Tenants being a population traditionally excluded from or reticent from making complaints against the landlords who provide their housing. Also, as Rockland County relies entirely on volunteer firefighters, coordinated by the county, their health and safety are also at issue, county officials stated.
To level the playing field, ensure appropriate living conditions for tenants and the safety of emergency personnel, the county has developed a Multiple Dwelling Registry and Certificate program. This program is intended to enable the Rockland County Department of Health to track and correct health code violations and ensure conditions exist that contribute to the health and safety of the tenants and the volunteer firefighters in the county.
Key points of the Registry Law include:
- Registration of the names and addresses of property owners and property managers for buildings that rent three or more apartments;
- A certification by the property owner of the number of apartments for which the building has been approved;
- No apartments may be rented by the landlord in the absence of a certificate from the County Department of Health;
- Failure to register and receive a certificate will permit the County Health Department to close the premises;
- Failure of the landlord to comply with laws related to construction and maintenance of dwellings will result in fines and closure of the premises until the problems are resolved.
- It is hoped that the information and enforcement terms of this law will make rental units safer for tenants and the emergency personnel that service them.
Details on the rental registration process will be made public in the coming weeks, with compliance required by early 2016, county officials stated.
Enhanced Adjudication Process
The adjudication process by which cited violations move through the Board of Health has been improved for greater efficiency and accountability. As a result, the adjudication process will enhance deterrence by increasing the net punishment cost to landlords and property owners who violate the law.
Currently, the law allows for a maximum fine of $2,000 per day for each violation. Mandatory and inflexible penalties on landlords who violate sanitary codes will break the economic incentive for building owners who withhold heat and hot water from tenants and/or allow properties to fall into general disrepair.
In the next several months, additional health inspectors will join the Unified Neighborhood Inspection Team. Along with the extra manpower in the field, a request for proposal (RFP) has been initiated for additional hearing officers to join the administrative enforcement process.
“The Rockland Codes Initiative will allow residents, business owners and neighborhood associations to take a proactive role in helping to reduce substandard housing and ensure that everyone in Rockland County is living under safe and sanitary conditions,” said Rockland County Executive Day.
“Housing is a basic human need, and the suitability of one’s housing with regard to size, safety, cost and special need requirements is a critical component of a person’s quality of life. It is the County of Rockland’s intent to ensure that all residents can find suitable housing in our communities. Furthermore, the county is committed to preserving and enhancing the existing quality of residential neighborhoods in all local towns and villages.
He added, “Simply put, a landlord must be responsible for his property. Those who don’t play by the rules lower property values of surrounding homes and lower a neighborhood’s quality of life when unsafe and unsanitary conditions persist. They say ‘money talks.’ Now that we are talking about serious fines, we know they will listen and respond.”
Rockland County Commissioner of Health Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert said, “We know that dozens of homes in Rockland County have moderate to severe physical problems, including illegal, jerry-built rooms, heating, plumbing and electrical deficiencies, water leaks, pests, roofing issues and unsanitary conditions. Illegal and unsafe and housing puts lives at risk, disparages a neighborhood and impacts our county’s infrastructure. The Rockland Codes Initiative will act as a disincentive to unscrupulous landlords and property managers who fail to take preemptive actions to keep their tenants safe and their properties in good shape.”