By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
My 2016 State of the County message offered a comprehensive update on one of my administration’s key programs: The Rockland Codes Initiative.
Launched ten months ago outside a blighted Spring Valley property, RCI is a sweeping effort to combat unsafe and illegal housing in our communities. We utilize the broad powers of the Health Department’s sanitary code to inspect dwellings and issue violations, which allow us to fight back against owners who think it’s no big deal to take advantage of those with little voice.
We’ve made it easy to file a confidential complaint about any property in the county. We’ve also made the process more transparent and more costly for the offenders. I’m pleased to report that RCI is getting results!
In one year, the number of housing complaints to the Health Department increased by 28%.The number of housing inspections jumped69% from 2014 to 2015. Fines assessed by the Department of Health skyrocketed630%during RCI’s first ten months, rising from $54,000 in 2014 to $391,000 last year.
They say “money talks.” Now that we’re hitting violators with serious monetary fines, we’re seeing greater compliance. Electrical outlets are being repaired; smoke detectors are being installed; jerry-built rooms are being dismantled.
Our well-orchestrated battle against exploitive absentee landlords and property owners is led by two strong, determined County employees: Commissioner of Health Dr. Patricia Ruppert and RCI Coordinator Catherine Johnson-Southren.
Each day, Ms. Johnson-Southren and her team of dedicated inspectors work overtime to stop the madness. These skilled Health Department employees visit unsafe and overcrowded homes and apartments throughout the County. They see horrific living conditions that most of us will never experience – and, thank God for that.
We understand that most of the tenants living in these conditions are on lower rung of our socioeconomic ladder. They sleep each night in illegal housing provided by unscrupulous landlords who receive cash for rentals and take advantage of the disadvantaged. I’m proud to say RCI has been both successful and sensitive.To date, not one resident has been evicted by an RCI complaint.
With these early successes firmly in hand, we’re moving on to RCI “Phase Two.” With the help of County Attorney Tom Humbach, we’ve rolled out a countywide Rental Certification and Registry initiative.
This new program mandates that every property in the County, at which there are three or more renters, must register with the Health Department in order to legally offer those units for rent.
The applicant must verify that the address complies with all laws and regulations that ensure the health and safety of the occupants and first responders, as a condition of being permitted to rent the premises, while also maintaining the property’s safe and sanitary condition in the future. Building owners must also provide backup documentation, like a Certificate of Occupancy, to show that the property is fit for habitation. Failure to obey the requirements of the Rental Certification may lead to significant fines.
You’ll learn more details about our new Rental Registry in the weeks to come.
As I have said time and again, the health and safety of all residents in Rockland County is the highest priority of my administration. For the sake of our residents who are tenants and first responders, whether in Clarkstown, Ramapo, Haverstraw, Orangetown or Stony Point, the County is supporting their dignity and taking up the gauntlet against landlords just don’t give a damn.
We all know that firefighting is dangerous enough, but it should not be made more dangerous when property owners, motivated by greed, illegally carve up apartments.
My message to slumlords is this: I will do whatever is necessary to ensure that neither a child, resident, nor one of Rockland County’s Bravest dies in a converted attic or hidden stairwell.
Join me as we move RCI into a new chapter, preserving the quality and character of our diverse neighborhoods and saving lives.
With the success of RCI, the Day Administration will turn slumlords into landlords.