My administration has a steadfast commitment to address quality of life issues. In 2015, the worsening problems of illegal housing and overcrowding are major priorities.
From Tomkins Cove to Spring Valley and from Nyack to Monsey, jerry-built rooms and shared extension cords have become the norm for thousands of tenants, most on the lower rung of the socioeconomic ladder.
Some believe that violating health and building codes is no big deal. Some believe that chopping up apartments and herding students like cattle is the cost of doing business. Some believe that it’s okay to exploit those who have little voice or fear authority. It’s not.
We all know that firefighting is dangerous enough, but it should not be made more dangerous when people, motivated by greed, illegally carve up apartments. We can’t wait for a child or one of Rockland County’s bravest to die in a converted attic or hidden stairwell.
Our message this year to unscrupulous landlords, or anyone participating in the illegal housing business is this: we’re coming after you.
Over the next few months, you’ll learn the details of a sweeping initiative to provide uniform and aggressive enforcement of building, housing and zoning codes in Rockland County with an emphasis on eliminating illegal housing.
My executive team has been working closely with County Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Ruppert and Fire and Emergency Services Coordinator Gordon Wren on a comprehensive strategy to stop the madness. Because our plans involve certain New York State health and building codes, I’ve personally engaged directly with the Governor’s office on the effort.
Elements of the plan include a countywide rental registry, complete with regular inspections. Another component involves an on-line “request for investigation.” We want to make it easy to file a confidential complaint about any property in the county.
Complaints filed via the County’s website or by telephone will initiate a streamlined process, including a timely, unannounced inspection, regular correspondence with the complainant and the opportunity to witness the Board of Health processing the case, in strict confidence. We plan to make the code enforcement process more transparent and much more costly for offenders by increasing housing violation fines.
With the scarcity of affordable housing in Rockland and with many residents already living in makeshift apartments, a new approach is critical. Improving the local housing stock will benefit all, without targeting some. Our enforcement will not focus on any particular population, but rather on those landlords who make money by victimizing tenants and by victimizing our neighborhoods.
For as long as I serve as your county executive, the illegal housing business will no longer be “business as usual” in Rockland. If we’re going to respect each other, we need to start with a mutual respect for our laws. Stay tuned.