Zebrowski calls for state code investigation, public hearing into Ramapo development woes

Zebrowski calls for state code investigation, public hearing into Ramapo development woes

Lohud Rockland Blog

by Steve Lieberman

Citing multiple examples of illegal housing and development in Ramapo, Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski is calling on state code enforcers to investigate and hold public hearings on the issue.

Zebrowski, a New City Democrat who represents parts of Ramapo, has been monitoring the situation for at least six months, working with the Rockland Illegal Housing Task Force, a volunteer group of firefighters and inspectors. The group maintains the lack of enforcement and delays in court pose threats to responding volunteer emergency personnel, as well as residents and students inside the homes and schools.

While the task force has convinced state enforcers to tour Ramapo, no action has been taken. The coder enforcement officials also have met with town officials, including Building Inspector Anthony Mallia. Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence has met with the task force promising changes.

Zebrowski said the time has come to prod the state to follow up on its commitments and conduct an independent investigation that will restore confidence in code enforcement and the safety of the community.”

“Due to the recent rash of excessive and blatant code violations, I have called on the Department of State to initiate an immediate investigation into the systemic failure of code enforcement in several Rockland County municipalities.” Zebrowski said.

He sent the state a number of cases of fire to buildings that had been illegally converted or had subdivided apartments. He cited articles written by The Journal News and lohud.com.

“We have seen a disturbing trend of fires in many illegally converted homes that have highlighted the lack of code enforcement,” he said. These cases represent a failure to properly enforce the law and in many situations are endangering the lives of residents and first responders.”

Zebrowski’s letter:

November 6, 2013

Cesar A. Perales
New York Secretary of State
One Commerce Plaza
99 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12231-0001

Dear Secretary Perales:

I am writing regarding the systemic failure of code enforcement in the Town of Ramapo and various villages in Rockland County that is endangering the lives of both citizens and emergency responders.

Let me first state that my office has been working with your agency and I appreciate the steps they have taken to date to look into this situation. I know they have made site visits, requested information and spoken with emergency service personnel in an effort to address this issue. However, given the frequency, severity and lack of remedial action for building code violations I believe it is imperative that your office open an immediate investigation pursuant to section 381(3) of the Executive Law of the State of New York.

Several recent situations illustrate the pervasive nature of building code violations and the risks associated when there is a lack of enforcement.

In July of 2013, firefighters responded to a fire at a single family home in the Village of New Hempstead. Firefighters entered the premises to find an illegal boarding house with nineteen tenants . The construction of false walls to build separate rooms created a dangerous situation to both the tenants and the firefighters who responded to the emergency.

This past month, on October 23rd, a fire broke out in a single family home (95 Highview Road) that was the residence of the caretaker of an illegal school at adjacent property (97 Highview Road). The illegal school, Talmud Torah Ohr Yochanan, was set up in 2009 and never received site plan approval or variances needed in order to operate a school on the property . Although the school never received these approvals, they were granted a building permit and temporary certificate of occupancy in October 2010. In November 2010, the Town’s attorney issued a report on the issuance stating that the “town illegally issued a building permit and certificate of use.” The report, written on November 18, 2010, admonished the town’s decision to issue these permits without site plan approval or variances calling it “patently illegal. ”

Fast forward to 2013, over three years after the temporary certificate of occupancy was issued, they still are operating with no site plan approval or variances. The school’s capacity was increased to 165 students, all in a single family home with two trailers on less than one acre, leading to an unsafe environment for the students, teachers, neighbors and most recently, our volunteer firefighters.

Just this past week, on November 3rd, a fire occurred at a two family home that was illegally converted into multiple apartments on 105 Ewing Ave in Spring Valley. The Fire Chief stated that as many as “7 or 8 families” were residing at the home. The property is owned by Slinn Avenue LLC. Slinn Avenue LLC has had numerous violations for this property and several others.

On November 4th, firefighters responded to a single family home on 141 W. Clarkstown Road that had the basement illegally subdivided into an apartment. The converted basement apartment included alterations to the stairwell consequently restricting egress from the house .

These scenarios are a small sample of the rampant building and fire code violations that get left untouched due to the lack of code enforcement in several municipalities including the Town of Ramapo, Village of New Hempstead and Village of Spring Valley. My office has been in contact with the Rockland Illegal Housing Taskforce for several months and they have compiled evidence and submitted a list of additional properties that are of immediate concern. I feel that the time has come for the Department of State to intervene and initiate an oversight investigation before these violations lead to a tragedy.

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. It is imperative that we address these code enforcement issues now. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact my office.

Sincerely,

Kenneth P. Zebrowski
Member of Assembly