This week, Governor Kathy Hochul sighed new legislation that will add addtional penalties for irresponsible property owners who disregard local zoning laws. Originally sponsored by Rockland’s State Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski and State Senator Rachel May of Syracuse, this new law will introduce harsher fines for landowners who’s holdings do not meet local building codes and punish landlords and homeowners who refuse to keep their properties up to standard.
The legislation will expand current penalties by imposing a minimum fine of $25 a day after 180 days of a property being in violation. That daily fine doubles to $50 if the property has not been brought up to code within 360 days of the issue being reported. The maximum penalty for failure to resolve code violations will remain $1,000 daily.
Both sponsors of the bill have stated that their proposal is intended to push local governments to move faster in addressing illegal property development. They have also argued that raising fines can deter developers who knowingly violate the law under the assumption that lax enforcement and low fines will shelter them from the consequences of their law breaking.
“While the $1,000 a day maximum is a severe penalty, the truth is, it is almost never used. In fact, far too many violations can languish for months or years without any fines actually being levied,” said Zebrowski .
“By establishing mandatory minimum fines, this new law will ensure some financial penalties start to accrue after a violation remains unabated. It is well past time for the culture of ‘build now, ask for forgiveness later’ to end.”
Building code violations, and the seeming inability of local government to address them, is an issue that Rocklanders are all to familiar with. In 2016, the state government assigned monitors to the town Ramapo and the village of Spring Valley building departments to oversee enforcement and inspections after both local governments garnered a reputation for lax enforcement. While the state has since recalled the monitor sent to Ramapo, Spring Valley remains watched.
Properties that do not meet zoning codes are of course a grave danger to both residents of the property and first responders charged with protecting them. In March of this year ,a deadly fire which destroyed the Evergreen Home for Adults in Spring Valley resulted in the arrests of Wayne Ballard and Raymond Canario, two former members of the village’s building department who are accused of intentionally filling false reports regarding the state of the property. Four others, including two employees of the home, have also been arested and charged for their role in enabling the inferno.
That fire took the lives of Volunteer Fire Fighter Jared Lloyd and home resident Oliver Hueston.
In 2019 the town of Ramapo was criticized during a state hearing for failing to properly enforce local zoning codes, though Town Supervisor Michael Specht has contested that his administration has hired more code enforcers and introduced new procedures to step up enforcement since coming into office in 2018.