County Executive’s Corner: Rockland County Takes on Slumlords and Wins

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By Rockland County Executive Ed Day

One year ago I told the people of Rockland County that we were going to do something about the slumlords that prey on tenants who live in dangerous and sometimes disgusting conditions.

I am happy to report that we have been successful.

We have taken on the slumlords – and we are winning.

The Rockland Codes Initiative allows residents to report unsafe housing conditions through a confidential web-based system. The involves the efforts of the Rockland Department of Health, which coordinates with other county agencies.

The goal is to force landlords to make repairs so that everyone in Rockland is living in a safe home.

The initiative just completed its first year. And what a year it was.

We are getting compliance.

The landlords know we are not kidding. We are coming after them.

And when they realize that, they make the repairs they need to make.

People are living in safer homes. Our first responders aren’t going – blind – into a death trap.

Our Department of Health has done a fantastic job of inspecting rental housing, citing violations, seeing the process through and making sure there is compliance.

In the first year of the Rockland Codes Initiative:

  • 1,238 complaints were received, compared to 836 the year before.
  • 5,802 inspections were conducted, compared to 3,191 the year before.
  • A total of 7,812 violations were issued through the program in its first year. And 2,272 of them were critical, life-threatening violations.
  • And $453,166.25 in fines were assessed, compared to $53,637 the year before.
  • No one has been put out on the street as a result of these inspections.

More than 400 of the 1,238 complaints were made through our confidential, web-based reporting system.

Once a complaint is made, inspectors from the Rockland Department of Health visit to look for conditions that violate the county sanitary code – conditions like unsafe and overcrowded housing.

In the first year, we assessed nearly half a million dollars in fines.

But handing out fines isn’t the reason we are going after these property owners.

We want compliance.

Our goal is to make slumlords into landlords.

We want landlords to maintain their rental properties in accordance with health and sanitary codes so that the families – men, women and children – who live there are safe.

If we have to assess fines to make these property owners do the right thing, that is what we will do.

That’s what happened at a multifamily house on South Street in Haverstraw.

It was in terrible shape the first time our inspectors visited the two apartments inside.

They found broken windows, lack of a second exit, missing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, inoperable plumbing, leaking ceilings, mice and roaches.

We talked to the landlords and tried to get them to make repairs. They didn’t.

The landlords had two formal hearings with the Board of Health.

Still no compliance.

So we fined them – $8,250 for the first floor apartment and $33,075 for the second floor apartment.

That’s a total of $41,325 in fines.

Guess what? That got their attention.

All of the violations at these two apartments have been fixed.

The people who live here are now protected by smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, their ceilings don’t leak, the windows and plumbing work and no more mice or roaches.

This is exactly the point of the Rockland Codes Initiative.

We are being aggressive about routing out bad landlords.

When our inspectors are denied access to a property, the county has applied for and received Supreme Court Orders for Search Warrants.

And now you don’t have to wonder who the worst landlords are: our website lists the top 5 landlords with the most violations.

As you can see, this program has been a success.

But we are not done yet.

We are still working on the Rental Registry, which will require landlords with three or more units to register with the county.

We don’t work alone. We are partnering with towns and villages.

RCI staff works with numerous agencies, including DSS, Adult Protective Services, Sheriff’s Department, the Office of Fire and Emergency Services and others.

We owe our success to the hard work of all of the people at these agencies.

Because of the Rockland Codes Initiative, everyone in Rockland is safer.

And we won’t stop until every slumlord becomes a landlord.



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