By County Executive Ed Day
In May of this year, we passed an extremely important milestone; the four-year anniversary of the start of the Rockland Codes Initiative (RCI). Brought about by an idea from County Attorney Tom Humbach and overseen by Deputy Commissioner of Health Kate Johnson Southren we have used this program way to go after the slumlords that were preying on our residents with impunity.
Four years ago we saw a need, as dangerous and disgusting conditions were spreading like the plague all across our county. The program itself is simple. Residents can make complaints through our confidential website or call them in. We also work with our local volunteer firefighters and building departments to get complaints.
Once a complaint is made, inspectors from the Department of Health visit a location. They look for conditions that might violate the county sanitary code – conditions like unsafe and overcrowded housing.
The numbers from the last four years speak volumes; 5,305 complaints made; 22,225 inspections performed; 28,279 violations issued. All resulting in $1,701,033 in fines assessed over 4 years. But handing out fines isn’t the reason we are going after these property owners.
We are sending a message. Using the Sanitary Code, we are getting compliance; we are seeing success. They are making the repairs they need to make. We are turning slumlords into landlords.
Is the fight over? Not even close – but – we – will – not – stop.
By and large, people are living in safer homes. Our first responders aren’t going blind into death traps.
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. Last week, we visited a property at 13-17 Cornelison Avenue in South Nyack. It was in terrible shape the first time our inspectors visited leaking pipes everywhere, sewage issues abounded, ovens didn’t work, numerous housing violations and a basement department nearly destroyed from sewage leaks.
The owners faced a formal hearing in front of the Board of Health in December 2016, and were fined $9,900. No changes. They returned to their next hearing 3 months later in February of 2017 and were fined $20,500. You better believe they took notice of that. This was not the usual $250 slap on the wrist seen in Town and Village courts.
Today, all of the units and common areas have been renovated. The property is registered with our Rental Registry, and we have not received any new complaints. The Rental Registry requires landlords with three or more units to register with the county.
This property is a success story, one of many that RCI has brought about these last four years. While there is still more work to be done, because of the Rockland Codes Initiative everyone in Rockland is safer. I cannot thank the employees of the Department of Health enough for their hard work and dedication.
We have more staff than ever before out in the community holding landlords and property owners accountable. But we still need your help reporting these conditions and being our eyes and ears in the community. To make a complaint call our Health Department at 845-364-2585 or visit our website www.rocklandgov.com and click on the RCI icon.