Landlords in violation beware; town housing court will lean on you
Brookhaven town ramped up its vigilance of landlords in violation of illegally renting, overcrowding their homes, and other quality-of-life issues with the re-establishment of a Brookhaven Community Housing Court starting Sept. 4.
Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine made the announcement before the Sixth District Court in Patchogue on Monday, where the Brookhaven Community Housing Court will be restored, an initiative begun by his son Keith Romaine when he was councilman. Keith Romaine passed away in 2009 at age 36, just after his re-election.
“We’re stepping up our game,” Romaine said. “Housing violations are up and there are a lot of them.” The Brookhaven Community Housing Court will handle violations issued by town inspectors and Brookhaven housing cases exclusively on Thursdays.
“My attorneys would be in court here and the judge would start a civil case and we wouldn’t start our cases until 11:30 a.m.,” town attorney Annette Eaderesto told the Advance. “Tickets for violations are issued daily. We were always at Sixth District Court on Thursdays, but now, all day is ours. Thursday they’ll plead guilty or not guilty and Fridays and Mondays are the trials.” Half-days will be set aside for the trials on those days, Romaine said, and possibly another day will be added to address tickets.
The re-establishment of this arm of the law will provide a more impactful monitoring of compliance with court orders, officials say. The cases will involve overcrowded housing, dilapidated abandoned homes, health violations, noise and nuisance violations and violations of zoning.
Eaderesto said the return on a ticket is usually 45 to 60 days; with the new housing court, the hope is 30 days. Cases heard on a single day average 150 to 200, Romaine said.
Romaine was joined by 20 members of the Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners, a civic group. Bruce Sander is president with vice president Tony DeRosa. The civic group was formed last April. According to Sander, there are 1,300 members.
“There are 232 houses that we know of rented out to Stony Brook University students,” said DeRosa, “of which 145 do not have permits.”
DeRosa told the Advance he researches a deed from an unkempt address at Riverhead with the county clerk’s office. The results are then verified with the town regarding legal rental registration. According to DeRosa, he provided that list last year to Elaine Crosson, Stony Brook’s vice president of external relations.
Romaine said most of the owners are Stony Brook University professors.
“At least 25 of the owners are professors or staffers at the university,” DeRosa added.
Sander said the group recently suffered through three days in court over a politically sensitive case where an owner was fined $28,000 for 16 violations. The owner never paid the fine and has appealed, he said.
“These houses don’t meet the fire code because of wiring and the owners chop up a house with a lot of rooms, and have only one exit,” said Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners member Bob Segnini. “You have 12 to 18 kids running extension cords. They’re sharing 250 amps with refrigerators, microwaves, range tops and hair dryers and the owners have only installed 100 amps. Then there’s the health and safety issues. They have no place to park and the owner paves over the front lawn and the cesspools.”
Segnini said he remembered twice or three times at town hall meetings where “[Stony Brook] sent a legal counsel and a couple of administrators attended and they said they were trying to address the issue of student housing,” he said.
Romaine told the Advance that while the Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners had rallied for the press conference regarding student-housing issues, “I just spent two and a half hours with the residents from Miramar Beach in East Patchogue that had 12 problem houses that were rentals,” he said. “North Bellport has a very big percentage of homes that are boarded up or rundown. We have foreclosures and empty foreclosed houses. We don’t go after people who aren’t neat, but those who have major code violations involving building and safety codes or if they carve up a house and put in 12 or 15 people and exploit social services. We want to bring these people into compliance and many of these owners are greedy.”
While there was no response to the Advance’s question about how many rental properties were owned by Stony Brook University professors or staff, in an email to the Advance, Stony Brook media relations officer Lauren Sheprow commented that the university did not support illegal rentals under any circumstances, was working together with Brookhaven Town to make sure students could live off campus in safety and were raising awareness about what constitutes an illegal rental. A number of educational initiatives have been implemented, she said, to circumvent landlords without the proper permits from renting to students. No landlord can advertise rentals on the Stony Brook Off-Campus Housing website without first showing an official permit, she said. Also, the university does not permit unauthorized advertising for off-campus housing on campus.
The university also broke ground this month on a new residence facility that will add 759 new beds on campus for undergraduate students, according to a letter sent to surrounding residents this month by Stony Brook University President Samuel Stanley. It will be fully operational in 2016; the university was also adding 650 beds to existing residence halls this fall, allowing the university to provide a bed for nearly all freshmen who choose to live on campus. The letter also commented that the lack of affordable housing for graduate students hinders Stony Brook’s ability to attract and retain faculty. The university had been in discussion with several developers exploring the possibility of new construction in appropriately zoned neighborhoods in Suffolk County, the letter said. There were also stepped-up initiatives like expanding the Office of Commuter Student Services and Off-Campus Living. Sheprow said the letter was received with enthusiasm and appreciation, according to responses received. According to Stony Brook University’s website, there were 24,143 students enrolled for the fall of 2013.
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