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Town to Increase Penalties, Ramp Up Laws Against Illegal Landlords

Action is expected to take place at the April 2 town board meeting.

In its latest step towards improving the quality of life for Stony Brook residents who feel they are victimized by landlords violating town housing codes, the Town of Brookhaven announced plans to increase fines levied against those who violate them.

Supervisor Ed Romaine on Monday said fines would go from $2,000 up to $5,000 for landlords convicted of a first offense; for a second offense, fines would go from $3,000 up to $10,000.

Additionally, new code amendments are being proposed that would increase the law department's ability to take action against landlords who run alleged illegal college boarding houses. Romaine also said the town board is exploring ways to prevent landlords who pave over entire front yards to "create parking lots where front lawns should be" from doing so. The town is also considering changing the duration of rental permits from two-year permits to one-year permits, and to also arrange for a process in which landlords wishing to rent to multiple unrelated tenants must go before an entity similar to the accessory apartment review board. The town is also exploring creating a registry of vacant, foreclosed and rental properties with the town clerk's office.

The new amendments and procedures follow a measure passed in 2012 that limited the number of unrelated people that can legally occupy a house in Brookhaven from eight down to four, and placed the burden of proof on the landlord instead of the town.

Romaine also suggested the town tax assessor's office may get involved – and said he has instructed his investigators to call the IRS whenever it's discovered that a landlord is collecting rents from multiple students in the case of illegal rentals.

"If they're going to convert residential property to commercial property, maybe we need to up their assessment as well," Romaine said. "This is a cash business. ... I've instructed our town attorney's office on all of these locations to contact the IRS ... to make sure that not only our government but the federal government is involved to bring an end to this illegal housing."

Currently, the town is investigating or prosecuting 50 illegal rooming houses in the Three Village area – with "more to come," Romaine said.

"We want to send a message," he said. "If you're going to come into our community, if you're going to carve up these houses and create illegal rooming houses ... we're going to go after you and we're not going to stop."

Town councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld backed the supervisor's remarks, and issued a statement urging residents to be continuously attuned to what's happening in their neighborhoods.

"Ultimately for our community to be successful in our collective efforts against unscrupulous landlords wanting to profit on the backs of our families' lost quality of life," he said, "we need the community to remain ever-vigilant and to report to our town law and public safety departments and the Suffolk County police what they see in real time."

Suffolk Legis. Kara Hahn, D-Setauket, thanked the community for coming forward in such influential numbers so as to motivate the town to act upon their concerns. "Never underestimate the power of community action, and that is really, really clear here today," she said.

Hahn continued: "This is not a new problem. We surround a growing university, but for too long [the local governments] have been slow to respond to the complaints of our neighbors. The problem grew, and this is no longer a student or two renting spare space in grandma's empty nest. This is a problem that has grown to really slumlord proportions. It's endangering the lives of students and it is hurting, harming, the quality of life in our community."

Bruce Sander, a resident who launched the Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners organization just over two weeks ago, said he saw the value of his house drop nearly "overnight" when a pair of college boarding houses "invaded our territory." Sander said the organization now has more than 300 residents as members.

"We are grateful for the help the Town of Brookhaven is putting forth to combat this infestation of investors buying up these single family homes," Sander said.

He called upon the town to streamline its investigations units with the operations of the building department, which he said he believes has issued rental permits to homes without verifying that the homes are within code.

Herb Mones of the Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook, which recently issued a call for increased fines against slumlords, said it's encouraging to hear the town is "moving in the right direction on a problem that has existed for the last 20 or 30 years."

However, he made an additional point: the discussions being had between the residents and the town seem to be marginalizing the students.

"I think that throughout the community there are students living in our neighborhoods, two, three, four students occuping a home that add to the vtiality, creativity and energy of the community and seamlessly integrate themselves into the fabric of our neighnorhoods. ... I would hate to think that in any way we are trying to stigmatize Stony Brook students, which i think is happening in our discussions," he said. "The [Civic Association] perspective has been that the students are being exploited under the circumstances."

Romaine had issued a statement warning students that they could be asked to leave their homes if their landlords are found to be in violation of town codes, and urged students to check out the legality of the house before signing a lease. "I don't think a student would want to be left without housing in the middle of a semester, but there's a good chance that will happen," he said in the statement.

On Monday, he said the town codes are not meant to ostracize students; when small numbers of students rent homes together and don't create disturbances, it is normally an acceptable situation.

"What's illegal is when you carve up a house and make it a rooming house, when you have interior locks and rent to more than three or four people, when you sign separate lease agreements with each and every one of them instead of all three signing one lease," he said. "It's a technical problem, but it's a problem."

RealTea March 26, 2013 at 11:44 PM
Homeowners: STAY VIGILANT! The TOB has no interest whatever in solving the illegal rooming house issue. The Town and the Town Attorney do the bidding of the University, which has given it's blessing to the ruination of our neighborhoods by absentee slumlords. The almost surreal lack of law enforcement we endure makes a mockery of "press releases" with a beaming Romaine standing shoulder to shoulder with the victims of the policies of this dysfunctional corrupt town.
Marcus Jenning March 26, 2013 at 11:52 PM
The 1989 court decision you are referring to was designed to protect the elderly/special needs groups that are unable to live on their own in a single-family home. It was not designed to protect slumlords who capitalize on desperate college students in need of housing.
Marcus Jenning March 26, 2013 at 11:54 PM
LOL $50,000 is like 10% of a house. How about $500,000?
Landlord Rights March 27, 2013 at 01:49 AM
Marcus, according to your understanding, 8 unrelated elderly people will be legal under the new codes? No. The new code does not say so. It is that clear that TOB violated the court's decision and put a limit on unrelated persons in the house. It is widly accepted and used in any state that the number of people allowed in the house is determined by the sq. footage of the property not by different groups of people. You have to understand it. What you are asking for has been escalated to a legal issue and this has to be decided by the court. By the way, our country's legal system is a case law system and this 1989's verdict will play an important role in this case. TOB is well aware of this and these politicians know this clearly as well.
lara buscatelli March 27, 2013 at 06:04 AM
Living Small meals are not free: BRONZE PLAN: $1,867 / SEMESTER 903 campus points 400 flex credits, average 10 meals /week Cost per Week: $82.03 Cost per Meal: $8.20 SILVER PLAN: $1,983 / SEMESTER 1019 campus points 400 flex credits, average 11 meals /week Cost per Week: $86.88 Cost per Meal: $7.89 GOLD PLAN: $2,214 / SEMESTER 1,250 campus points 400 flex credits, average 13 meals /week Cost per Week: $104.97 Cost per Meal: $8.07 PLATINUM PLAN: $2,792 / SEMESTER 1,828 campus points 400 flex credits, average 18 meals /week Cost per Week: $136.00 Cost per Meal: $7.56
justme March 27, 2013 at 11:01 AM
Where is the new code? The 1989 code you kept referring to earlier states exactly what Marcus quoted. It was designed to protect elderly and disabled people who lived in group homes which functioned like a family. It wasn't meant to be taken advantage of by you and others who are looking to run apartment houses. Either way your houses of 8 college students was never legal. They're transients that don't function as a family.
Landlord Rights March 27, 2013 at 11:32 AM
Justme, don't you realize TOB changed unrelated from 8 to 4 in a house ? Can explain legally the word " transients"? Will you call these who have a lease of more than a school year are transients?
LivingSmall March 27, 2013 at 03:21 PM
lara buscatelli -- did you fully read my post: "...should the taxpayer funded state university be giving away free food, too? " I realize what meal plans can cost as well as what tuition runs; as you seem incapable of understanding, like you, I can find my way around the SBU web site. Meal plans are required, which seems unfair to some. Well here's a thought -- instead of finding cheap slumlord housing to dodge a meal plan (and ruining our neighborhoods in the process) STUDENTS SHOULD TAKE IT UP WITH ADMINISTRATION as opposed to cowering and accepting it. Or are you just trying to rationalize illegal rooming houses and illegal apartments? Here's a swell idea which many people tend to practice: Don't buy something you can't afford to keep without breaking the law.
justme March 27, 2013 at 08:23 PM
Transient (noun):A person who is staying or working in a place for only a short time. Yes, college students are transients. Do you think un-related college students renting from you are a family?
Sickmore Circle March 27, 2013 at 08:59 PM
The town does not lose tax revenue due to illegal apartments. The word “lose” by definition means one has to gain it first. The town never gained it before these illegal apartments came into existence. So the town does not lose it. The town, however, does not gain extra tax to offset the extra expenses these illegal apartments incur. Examples of these expenses include road repair, garbage collection, snow removal, etc. That’s why illegal apartments are not fair financially to local residents because it is the local residents who collectively pay for those expenses while the illegal apartments benefit from them for free. Legal apartments, on the other hand, pay taxes just as other legal single family houses do and the town gains taxes accordingly as a result. There shouldn’t be any complaints from anybody from the financial point of view in theory. Not only there should be no complaints, local residents should understand that the school district, more often than not, actually benefit tremendously from these legal apartments since they pay school taxes without having school-age children to go to schools. The School District hence gets the tax revenue without providing any services.
Sickmore Circle March 27, 2013 at 09:00 PM
I am a Three Village resident for over 30 years. I understand that renting to students has been an issue since the day the College started here. Even today, it is rather common for many families living around the campus to rent a room/garage/basement to students. And for the most part this has not been a real problem. Students benefit from it getting cheaper housing while living in a quieter, more family-like environment. Residents benefit from it for receiving some rental income to somewhat offset the extremely high property taxes. This is especially important to older people since their kids have grown up and left the house and now they are forced to rent part of their space out in exchange for some rental income for them to stay in this expensive area. To call these residents slumlords is not entirely accurate. Most of them are responsible residents just like everyone else. Some of them are even retired professors. Sadly, they need the extra money to pay for the school taxes, again, just like everyone else. To call these students to be exploited by landlords is not entirely accurate either. These are smart young people and I think it is “stupider” to think they are stupid to be easily exploited by others.
Sickmore Circle March 27, 2013 at 09:00 PM
Last year’s sudden revision of the town code without sufficient deliberation within the community is a simple dirty trick the town and our elected councilman pulled on the community. The New York State Court of Appeals ruling in 1989 clearly states this type of revision is unconstitutional. The current revision will not sit well with the Court of Appeals either when challenged again. It is important to keep a cool head in the current debate. It is appropriate to fine landlords who set up boarding houses and who clearly ignore the feelings of the local residents. It is not rational, however, to try to rid of legal apartments within owner occupied houses. When older or financially weaker homeowners cannot afford the high taxes and cannot find additional income to offset them, they will be forced to exit en masse. Housing prices will plummet as a result. At that time, everybody will get hurt.
robs March 28, 2013 at 04:59 PM
Sickmore Circle thanks you for a cool head analyst of the problem, these people are going to regret what they ask for when nobody buys their house.
Peter March 29, 2013 at 12:35 AM
Has anybody noticed the rental properties on Stony Brook Road. How can you miss them, the homes are in disrepair, garbage, autos everywhere. I would estimate 60 % of the homes on Stony Brook Road are now rentals. There are two homes that are currently renovating there garages into living space. I do not see any permits posted for the work being performed. I find the town to be extremely negligent, and highly doubt anything will be done. Lots of talk with no action. Lets not forget the septic systems were not designed for the capacity that they're undertaking.
justme March 29, 2013 at 12:48 AM
Yes, the obvious rentals and disrepair is hurting the home values. This landlords don't care, drives prices down so they can buy more homes. Less families moving in since nobody want to live next to a rooming house. SBU should build more dormitories to house their student population. It would be better for the students and the university in the long run. Living on campus provides a better college experience. They should make that commitment to their students and the community.
OhBeeHave March 29, 2013 at 03:43 PM
A multi-family dwelling (like a home with an apartment for rent) which is taxed incorrectly at the single residential rate is costing the town money. Proper assessment reflecting the commercial nature of the rental needs to be done. Any STAR which was improperly claimed or retained by sale or transfer should be back charged. You could say that those rentals which do not have children benefit the district, but the same holds true for any single family home where childless resident taxpayers are paying for the schools as well. The big difference is that the rental homes are underassessed and do not reflect the true value of the commercial rental property.
OhBeeHave March 29, 2013 at 03:51 PM
You do realize that most homes in the area do not have proper basement egress, making a basement apartment unsafe and totally illegal. How many of the student tenants are aware of that? How many garage conversions were done to code? I've seen unmarked vans or vans with scrawled marker on them in front of homes which are being transitioned to rentals. I haven't seen any Suffolk County licenses on them, so I've reported them. Neighbors, if you witness an unlicensed contractor, electrician, plumber (by law they have to have a Suffolk County Consumer Affairs License sticker on their vehicle) please contact Suffolk County Consumer Affairs at (631) 853-4600 . Please provide the location of the work and if possible description of vehicle and license plate number.
Marcus Jenning March 30, 2013 at 02:30 PM
The problem is not that there aren't enough dormitories; it's that living on campus is more expensive than off campus.
Marcus Jenning March 30, 2013 at 02:36 PM
Yes, I agree we should definitely take action against houses/landlords that are not doing things according to code. However, like Sickmore said, we can't assume that all the off-campus students are being misguided and crammed into unsafe living conditions. Personal observation around the neighborhood tells me that many are, but I don't doubt that there are some students that decided to rent these homes from responsible landlords (of which there are sadly very few, but probably more than zero).
lara buscatelli March 30, 2013 at 02:52 PM
Just clarifying your misleading statement that 'meal plans are free and decades ago you had to pay" They still pay. I do believe illegal housing needs to be addressed town wide. No need to question my understanding. One makes a personal attack when there is no argumentative basis for their speech.
justme March 30, 2013 at 06:45 PM
Two questions: 1 - Are students violating town codes by sub-letting their apartments in these rooming houses? 2 - If the argument that landlords use is that the students function as a "family", how can students sublet their room? Shouldn't the rest of the "family" pick up the cost when a "family member" is "away"?
Sbian March 31, 2013 at 04:36 AM
Hi guys, there is a similar discussion in another news story I was following. I'm one of those international graduate students. The school can not and should not discourage its students from living off-campus. We should be free to choose where to live as long as we comply with the local rules and even if the school has enough room for everybody they still expect a number of students who will choose to live off-campus. In contrast to the remarks I find here most of my interactions with long time residents have been welcoming and positive. I think the community should expect a more diverse demographics populating the neighborhoods in the upcoming years. I said this as a positive thing that is going to happen.
mary ann March 31, 2013 at 01:33 PM
Every college has a food plan and if you cannot afford to go to college, you should not go. State schools are low priced compared to private colleges. With people opting to go to SUNY colleges, now that private colleges are waaay too costly, Stony Brook will be way over capacity and all these students will be living off campus. When this happened at UCONN, incoming students had to live in nearby hotels. College is not for everyone and with the job situation being what it is, grads are not finding jobs. There's a lot to be said for vocational schools, become an auto mechanic, a plumber, electrician, chef, medical office worker, etc. IF you and your parents can take out multi loans, and your parents can refinance their house, which is what's done in our family, then go to college, live on campus AND pay for food. It is what it is...college has become a luxury not a "given".
Joe Sneider March 31, 2013 at 03:09 PM
First, everyone lowers your pitchfork and torches. Take a look at the bigger pictures of Housing PROBLEMS ON LONG ISLAND as a whole. First look at WHY YOUNG PROFESSIONALs are LEAVING THE ISLAND. Look at the fact NOT many people are interested in starting a family on long island. Now look at the statistics of dwindling students in the elementary schools. Then start looking at the companies that are still on long island. Many are LEAVING than new companies coming. The island is deteriorating economically. Stop focusing on this "student housing crisis". Its a "Long Island crisis". Its only a byproduct of a far reaching problems. The town's tougher enforcement is going to make things WORSE for everyone around the surrounding areas of the university. Your home prices is deteriorating is NOT BECAUSE of illegal rentals. Its deteriorating b/c we are still in a freaking national housing crisis since 2008. Lets make this more political -- We're in a national crisis b/c of more and more government involvement in every aspects of our lives. Tougher enforcement will come back to bite the same homeowner asking for it one day b/c once you let loose demanding for more "enforcement", it will come back to be used against law abiding citizen.
Joe Sneider March 31, 2013 at 03:09 PM
There will always be a "housing crisis of illegal rentals" and it just seems to shift from group to group every decade. Limitations imposed on how we used our home is unconstitutional and I really hope people challenge the town codes to the wazoo. Not every family is the typical nuclear unit. There are many family that likes to keep their extended family together and not throw them away in nursing home when they turn 65. Be a friendly neighbor can go much further (and cheaper for your pocket) then carrying pitchforks to town hall. Stop getting riled up for nothing. Nothing has changed in the surrounding towns for the last 2 decades. Just some neighbors wanting to make noises and its going to cause more long term problems then to actually fix anything is my 2cents.
Joe Sneider April 01, 2013 at 03:10 PM
http://agendapublic.brookhaven.org/AttachmentViewer.aspx?AttachmentID=26810&ItemID=12774 Here's the actual agenda. Please read it carefully and go over each specific codes. The proposed fines is targetted at EVERYONE. Looks like the Concerned Citizens of SB is being taken advantage by using them for public support but reality of the proposed changes are to collect more fines across the board. It does nothing to address the "situations". If anything, it makes the whole area even more unattractive. Unless you're living in fantasy land, just about every other home on the whole darn island has some kind of code violations. So I hope your home is in top notch shape or be prepared to be fine for what you're asking for. Here's a quick summary: 85-370 - Swimming Pool?! That's a good one to sneak in 85-356 - Parking of commercial vehicles/trailers/docking??! 85-201 - Legal accessory apt (owner occupy) affected 85-57 to 85-66 - General rules for residential homes 85-45 - Site Plan review, affects everyone making any alterations 85-20 - C/O, Very broad and affects everyone with C/O violation whether landlord or not 85-17 - Building permits, again very broad affects everyone wanting to alter their home for ANY REASON I'm no lawyer, but in reading all of this. It seems to me the town is taking advantage of the situation to basically to increase fines universally. This is going to affect everyone from residential to business properties.
Sickmore Circle April 01, 2013 at 03:40 PM
Joe, Is there anyway we as residents can defeat these proposed changes? It is outrageous for the town to increase the penalty in such a wide scale. It will destroy the communities.
Sickmore Circle April 01, 2013 at 03:46 PM
Joe, " Lets make this more political -- We're in a national crisis b/c of more and more government involvement in every aspects of our lives. Tougher enforcement will come back to bite the same homeowner asking for it one day b/c once you let loose demanding for more "enforcement", it will come back to be used against law abiding citizen." Great foresights! My god, mour predictions are coming true in just a few days. We residents should really be vigilant. The government is trying to control every apsect of our lives. Resdients, be careful with what you are asking for.
Joe Sneider April 01, 2013 at 03:58 PM
Its not going to destroy any communities but its going to cost taxpayers more money. Its just another form of taxations vs fair use of your own land debate is what it will boil down to. The bottom line is the town/county wants to raise revenue b/c of the dramatic shift in budgets in the last few years and this is one avenue that will get less backlash b/c its "protecting" the law abiding citizen. I no longer see the scheduled "Resolution Meeting" on 4/2 on the Brookhaven site and my link is no longer valid. I guess they canceled that meeting but still other stuff going on Tuesday 4/2/2013.
Doug April 02, 2013 at 08:44 PM
Illegal apartments are just a symptom of the problem, which is ridiculous property taxes, unlivable wages and sky-high cost of living.

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