Legislation seeks to protect firefighters and emergency responders from unseen, illegal housing renovations
The Senate passed legislation this week that would let towns, villages and cities roll unpaid fines into an offender’s annual taxes. This bill would allow unpaid housing code violation penalties that have remained unpaid for one year to be added to the annual tax levy.
Illegal housing has increasingly become a safety concern for Rockland County. To maximize their profits, landlords subdivide homes and allow families to reside at the property that are well above the legal capacity. Due to the lack of real penalties, code enforcement has proved difficult for many towns and villages in Rockland County, and citations have proved to be ineffective. In 2014, New York State issued letters to the Town of Ramapo and Village of Spring Valley, criticizing each municipality 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.
This bill would allow unpaid housing code violation penalties that have remained unpaid for one year to be added to a municipality’s annual tax levy. Under this legislation, the fines for housing violations would be included in a homeowner’s property taxes, giving the taxing authority the ability to sell the home to satisfy an outstanding tax lien. This bill will also allow housing code violation fines to be collected at the same proceedings as the delinquent property taxes, saving municipalities time and money through the collection process.
More importantly, landlords who illegally modify apartments put the lives of firefighters and first responders in jeopardy. Attempting to rescue a person from a smoke filled building with minimal visibility is difficult enough without firefighters having to worry if the door they open will lead them to safety or to a room not previously known to exist. We can, and must, do more to protect the safety of firefighters and this commonsense bill is the first step to do so.
“Landlords that do not follow proper housing, zoning and fire codes create unsafe living conditions for our community, and endanger the lives of first responders. The conduct demonstrated by these landlords is unacceptable, completely preventable, and must change immediately,” said Senator David Carlucci, one of the bill’s sponsors. “Adding these fines to an individual’s tax levy gives our municipalities real teeth when it comes to fighting off code violators. I’m proud that the Senate has passed this bill and I will continue to work vigorously to deter illegal housing in Rockland County.”
The bill now heads to the Assembly where it is sponsored by Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski (D-New City).