County Executive’s Corner: Slumlords Can Kill

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By Rockland County Executive Ed Day

I’ve long said that someone was going to die because of the negligence of a slumlord who put profit above safety.

Last week, it almost happened.

A Spring Valley family was sickened by carbon monoxide poisoning an overcrowded apartment that had already come to the attention of the Rockland Department of Health.

One member of the eight-person family, a grandmother, was unconscious when she was spotted by a very alert county worker who happened to be in the residence for an unrelated reason.

With the help of a Spring Valley Police Officer, the older woman was removed from the home and taken by ambulance to a hospital where she recovered. A tragedy was narrowly averted.

The residence on Jay Street is exactly why we created the Rockland Codes Initiative – a program in which we aggressively investigate substandard housing and go after the landlord to make improvements.

A total of 7,812 violations were issued through the program in its first year, 2,272 of them critical, life-threatening violations. A total of $453,166.25 in fines were assessed, compared to $53,637 the year before.

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.

But the owners and property manager of the Jay Street residence shows just how hard it can be to get unscrupulous landlords to maintain safe housing.

The Rockland Department of Health had been working with a man who identified himself as Michael Pinkas, property manager for owner Mattis Fried.

The village of Spring Valley was also involved and ordered the owner to remove a wall that illegally subdivided the unit.

On May 19, inspectors with the both the county and Spring Valley examined the home and found that it was in compliance – the illegal wall was gone, the proper number of smoke and fire detectors were in place and other problems had been fixed.

Then, just two weeks later, after the grandmother got sick with carbon monoxide poisoning, inspectors went back. What they found shocked them: the illegal wall was back and the smoke and carbon monoxide and smoke detectors were gone.

The owner will face a formal hearing on June 28 on numerous charges, including lack of the proper number of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and overcrowding.

The house has a history of violations dating to 2007, including allowing people to live in a basement that does not have another way out if there is a fire.

The owner of this Jay Street property is going to be brought up on formal charges under the county sanitary code – and face fines that I promise will be felt in the pocketbook.

The days of landlords getting away with these violations indefinitely or paying minimal fines as the price of doing business are over.

The owner of the Jay Street property and all other owners of dangerous housing: your days are numbered. We’re coming after you.

This resident narrowly escaped death. We want to make sure there’s not going to be a next time.

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