After months of preparation, on Feb. 14 Rockland County officially assumed responsibility for enforcing fire and building codes in the village of Spring Valley. Rockland’s new Office of Buildings and Codes stands as the first instance in New York history of a county assuming responsibility for enforcing village zoning laws; the take-over was ordered by the state government after years of monitoring failed to improve the village’s lackluster enforcement record.
“Rockland has no interest in permanently operating (Spring Valley’s) building department,” stated County Executive Ed Day during a press conference on Monday, formally announcing the change in management. Executive Day and Ed Markunas, the former mayor of Suffern and Director for the new office, repeatedly stated the goal of the department is to rehabilitate Spring Valley’s operations and return enforcement to the village level. Both officials have promised to level “substantial fines” against code violators, but also stated that the department is more focused on achieving broad compliance with the law rather than punishing individual landowners. “Fines are not the primary goal, compliance is” stated Day.
While the fines for code violations are traditionally issued and contested in the municipal court representing the area where the violation occurred, going forward, the Spring Valley Just Court will hear few if any cases regarding code violations. Instead, fines will now be issued by an administrative court within the new department and cases heard by Director Markunas.
While Markunas stated that his office stands ready to assume responsibility for the village, homeowners and contractors in Spring Valley will still have to wait before beginning any new construction. The Office of Buildings and Codes has instituted a 30-day moratorium which will end on March 15, 2022, on any new permit applications while the Office conducts a comprehensive review of all outstanding violations while resolving issues that pose an imminent threat to life, health, and safety. The Office requests all interested parties begin submitting complaints by calling 845-364-3700 or emailing BuildingsAndCodes@co.rockland.ny.us.
“Based on the information provided by Spring Valley, there are over 800 outstanding inspections that we must tackle as quickly as possible, which will be prioritized based on any safety concerns,” said Markunas. “To accomplish this, we have 20 certified code inspectors and several support staff who will tackle the outstanding inspections. As this process plays out, we are prepared to increase staffing and inspectors if the workload demands it.”
The Office of Buildings and Codes main office is located on the 2nd Floor of Building A in the Robert Yeager Health Complex in Pomona. Rockland County will also have a small satellite office at Spring Valley Village Hall to accommodate the needs of village residents. The satellite office will be staffed by a clerk and certified code inspector to provide forms and answer questions.
Despite the takeover, the new Office of Buildings and Codes retains the staff and equipment of Spring Valley’s former building department, the county’s primary goal to rehabilitate rather than supplant their operations. That said, Day has made it clear that this new office will seek to crack down on the corruption that necessitated the change in management.
“Any Village employee who does not comport entirely with the rules and regulations of New York State will be removed from participating in our effort,” said County Executive Day. “I promise the people of Rockland that my top goal in fulfilling this order from New York State is to protect the health and safety of village residents, visitors and first responders. This new Office will ensure strict compliance with all New York State Fire, Building and Energy Codes,” said County Executive Ed Day.
Day concluded the press conference by urging tenants apprehensive about the new wave of inspection and enforcement to comply with any building inspector that visit their home. Renters living in illegally zoned buildings are the very people the department was formed to protect, and it is their landlords who bear responsibility for breaking the law.