June 07, 2006
Southampton Town Gets Tough On Illegal Housing
Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney is mad as hell. And he — as well as members of the Southampton Town Board — aren't going to take it anymore.
At last Friday's work session, the board agreed to add a resolution to last night's agenda, authorizing "aggressive action" with regard to a recent example of overcrowded housing uncovered in Hampton Bays.
Heaney explained that the town will seek a Supreme Court action in the form of a restraining order and injunction against Berta E. Aquina-Perez, owner of the property, located at 57 Peconic Road in Hampton Bays.
On May 17, following up on complaints of unsafe and illegal living conditions, Southampton Town Police, the fire marshal's office, code enforcement officers, and building department officials executed a search warrant.
Once inside, conditions were reportedly horrifying: Heaney said as many as 17 people – three children, one infant, eight men, and four women – were found to be living in unsafe and illegal conditions. Inside the home, reported Heaney, there were no smoke detectors. Open and exposed electrical wiring, as well as extension cords were a hazard, as were illegal stairways leading to a garage, which was also inhabited unlawfully.
Worst of all, said Heaney, an infant's crib was discovered in the basement, beneath a boarded-up window. Not only was fire a threat, he said, but carbon monoxide poisoning posed a risk for the child.
The injunction would force Aquina-Perez to remove the tenants from her home and eliminate violations to the Southold Town building code.
"This is a real and deplorable set of circumstances for people to be living under," said Heaney. "The town intends to take a strong stand and send a clear message to greedy property owners: We won't stand for it."
After viewing videos of the scene, Heaney said that although tenants were crowded into unsafe conditions, the section of the home where Aquina-Perez was living was described by some as "palatial." Meanwhile, he said, the fact that the owner's own children "were put in this situation by virtue of her greed is mind-blowing."
The supervisor applauded the town attorney and code enforcement officers for remaining "in dogged pursuit" of offenders.
Unsavory landlords, he said, are collecting as much as $3000 a month for squalid and unsafe living spaces.
The town will continue to pursue offenders, said Heaney, who warned that this is a sign of "vigorous enforcement efforts" in the future.
Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi agreed. "What I hope is that people are going to take a look at something like this and see that the town really is serious. Maybe landlords will think twice before going out and renting their house to 17 different people."
The councilman added: "These people are paying rent to landlords whose bank accounts are being enriched by the fact that they're renting to 15 different people at a pretty significant sum every month."
The travesty, he said, is that the landlords have abused the process, as well as those living in illegal circumstances. Nuzzi added that he is working on a number of code enforcement initiatives, involving reorganization within town government to better address code enforcement needs.
Should the temporary restraining order be issued, said Heaney, it would affect the residency of those living in the building. To that end, the supervisor has contacted the Peconic Community Council, a Riverhead-based housing advocacy group, to provide temporary shelter for tenants.
Some, said Nuzzi, might feel the town is taking an aggressive stand by putting people out of their homes. But the councilman believes it is an action that must be taken to ensure safety for residents. "What are the options in a situation like that?" he asked, pointing out in other municipalities, other similar situations have existed where, he said, "People died."