BY MICHAEL RICONDA
SPRING VALLEY – A new county initiative spearheaded by the Department of Health takes aim at the worst landlords by bolstering enforcemen and even placing offending properties under public scrutiny.
The Rockland Codes Initiative, which was launched at a property owned by of one of the county’s worst offenders on Thursday, April 30, aims to improve safety and reduce blight by taking aim at illegal housing and subdivisions, fire, health and zoning violations, overcrowding and other code infractions.
One of the unique aspects of this enforcement effort is its emphasis on community involvement. The RCI now allows residents to request investigations with an online form. Site visitors will also be able to view the county’s worst offenders on a listing of offending property owners, addresses they owned which have been cited and the number of citations issued.
In addition to new reporting methods, the Health Department will also receive support from two new housing inspectors and two new supervisors with the Unified Neighborhood Inspection Team (UNIT). Inspectors will be empowered with the ability to levy heavier fines, which could reach up to $2,000 per day per violation.
According to Rockland County Executive Ed Day, who announced the initiative with Health Department Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert at the Spring Valley address of one of the worst properties on Thursday, the RCI was spurred by persistent concerns that first-responders or residents could be harmed as a consequence of sloppy code adherence.
“We all know firefighting is dangerous enough,” Day said. “It should not be made more dangerous when property owners motivated by greed illegally carve up apartments. We cannot allow a child or one of Rockland County’s bravest to die in a converted attic or hidden stairwell.”
Properties listed online include 76 Fairview Avenue, a Spring Valley location owned by Metallic Sunburst LLC and managed by Yaniv Razak which has accumulated 19 citations. The worst offender, 73 South Madison Avenue in Spring Valley, has a staggering 44 violations under current landlords Clarel and Vierge Jean.
Code enforcement is normally a responsibility held by towns and villages, but recently, Rockland’s enforcement authorities and emergency personnel have complained of the proliferation of unscrupulous slumlords who allow illegal subdivisions and serious safety concerns, often to maximize profits by cramming in as many low-income, immigrant families as possible.
Code enforcement in some areas of the county has also been criticized as notoriously ineffective. In early February, New York State issued letters to the Town of Ramapo and Village of Spring Valley, chastising them for allowing properties such as illegal schools to remain in violation for extended periods by obtaining temporary certificates of occupancy and threatening a state takeover of enforcement activities if the localities did not shape up.
According to Day, who pushed hard for the RCI during his first year in office, the new hires will largely be paid for with fines, penalties and registration fees.
Residents who wish to view a list of the county’s worst offenders or submit an investigation request can visit the Rockland County Health Department’s housing website. The online form is available at http://rocklandgov.com/departments/health/environmental-health/housing/rockland-codes-initiative/rci_form/.