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Jun 4, 2014 9:55 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Town Issues 54 Notices Of Violation In Hampton Bays; List Inspires New Approach, Crackdown

Jun 4, 2014 11:24 AM

Southampton Town’s newly restructured Code Enforcement Division issued a series of violation notices to homeowners in Hampton Bays this week, action that some officials are viewing as a renewed effort to combat housing code violations throughout the town.

A new division of Code Enforcement, the Housing Investigations Unit, issued 54 notices of violation to the owners of 14 rental properties in the North Road neighborhood of Hampton Bays this week, according to town officials.

Three officers from the unit spent the last month patrolling the neighborhood, which has seen a high number of complaints from residents about overcrowded houses in recent years, and asking questions of residents. Their observations and questioning led to the issuance of the violation notices against the six individual landlords who own the 14 houses identified as illegal rentals.

The names of the property owners have not been released by the town yet because they have not actually been charged with violations—only notices that their properties are out of compliance. The owners will be given 10 days to bring their properties into compliance, or to demonstrate that they have started to address the violations, or they will be issued Justice Court summonses. Those owners who did not have rental permits in place on their properties were issued summonses already.

Deputy Supervisor Frank Zappone said most of the violation notices issued were for lack of town-mandated rental permits and over-occupancy. Some of the landlords also received notices for safety code violations, like illegal basement apartments.

Mr. Zappone, who sat on a town committee that reorganized Code Enforcement this past winter, said the town expects the new Housing Investigations Unit to pave the way for the town to rein in the various forms of illegal rentals.

“They go where the action is,” he said of the officers. “When they see someone coming out of one of these properties they’ve identified potentially in violation, they stop and ask questions: Do you pay rent? To whom do you pay rent? How many people do you live with? And so on.”

The reorganization of the code division, which included the creation of the Housing Investigation Unit, was intended to lead the housing crackdown away from a model of response to individual complaints about properties and toward one where a team of officers can conduct long-term observations of entire neighborhoods. That way, they an identify numerous apparent problem properties, compile case files of violations at each and issue large numbers of violations in one fell swoop.

Last year the Town Board consolidated all of the town’s code-related enforcement departments—the fire marshal, Code Enforcement and Animal Control—under the administration of the town attorney’s office. Armed with iPads that allow them to access town records about various properties and to communicate directly with attorneys at Town Hall from the field, Code Enforcement officials—the town now has seven officers—are expected to be more efficient and effective.

“The way it’s been restructured, the person who is prosecuting the enforcement of whatever violation there is, is actually overseeing the investigation,” Town Councilwoman Christine Scalera said. “It will be much more effective, we think, both at investigating and at prosecuting violations, and all the officers seem to be enthusiastic about how it’s working so far.”

Mr. Zappone noted that the housing unit is in the midst of another investigation effort, this one focused on illegal share houses, that he expects will produce a second round of violation notices.

Along with new directions in enforcement, the town has also recently hiked the potential fines for violators of housing codes, seeking to remove the “cost of doing business” attitudes many landlords have taken toward them. Fines now can reach as much as $30,000, and the path to criminal prosecutions for repeat offenders is more direct.

The reorganization of the department was rooted in frustration among officials, and many residents, with the seeming inability of Code Enforcement to make significant dents in the number of illegal rentals, including year-round, seasonal and short-term ones, that have plagued some neighborhoods, particularly Hampton Bays. Last summer, a new citizens group, the Concerned Citizens of Hampton Bays, presented the town with a painstaking list of some 500 properties in the hamlet that it believed were likely in violation of municipal housing codes.

The list, and how it was compiled—with members of the group personally gathering the data before presenting it to the town—was both an eyeopener and catalyst for seeking a new approach to housing enforcement, the deputy supervisor said. “The level and detail of information they provided us helped stimulate the thinking that there had to be a more effective way to address the issue,” Mr. Zappone said.

The drafters of the list hope that the town’s renewed vigor in cracking down on illegal housing will finally address the problem.

“The enforcement mechanism ... was totally out of whack,” Concerned Citizens of Hampton Bays founder Robert Liner said this week. “But the town administration, especially [Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst] and Frank [Zappone], have demonstrated a very great ability to reorganize and unorganized system, and centralize it and modernize it and focus it into what we hope will be a more effective force.

“They are focused on this as much as anything I’ve seen,” he added.

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By GOTGOD (14), Southampton on Jun 5, 14 9:48 AM
This is the best news about this town I've read in a long long time. Hampton bays has fallen off the map as being a decent place to raise a family. A recent article in another local paper listed riverhead as part of the hamptons, not even hampton bays. However, with code enforcement stepping up their game and really cracking down on the current housing problems, this town may just have a shot at turning around. I'm stating this as a current homeowner and taxpayer. I work hard to support my family ...more
By unjustifiedjustice2 (35), East Quogue on Jun 7, 14 9:33 PM
2 members liked this comment
If you take census data on Hampton Bays and apply reasonable estimates to the number of adults and children living in those 500 + houses, it could mean that 20-25% of the population of HB live in dangerous, sub safe housing. Sad it has taken so long, lucky no deaths are attributed to lack of enforcement.
By TheTurtle (143), Southampton on Jun 7, 14 10:02 PM
1 member liked this comment
Very reminiscent of Germany's SS.

To all the renters and owners out there, NEVER, EVER, answer questions from the police without having your attorney present. You're openly giving them probable cause and waiving your own civil rights. They're not permitted to wonder or roam on your property searching for evidence without probable cause.

Police, code enforcement , etc. should get a search warrant if they think there's an illegal activity going on - yeah, it's called the constitution ...more
By whatapity (106), Tuckahoe on Jun 10, 14 11:23 AM