June 21, 2006

Southampton Town: Next Step In Illegal Housing

The Southampton Town Board is very serious about its commitment to cracking down on illegal housing.

And, last week, the wheels of progress continued to turn as Southampton Town officials served a temporary restraining order to Berta Aquino-Perez, the owner of a Hampton Bays house that was home to 17 people, including children and an infant. They were living in horrific conditions.

For Aquino-Perez and five of her tenants at 57 Peconic Road, the restraining order is an evacuation notice compelling them not to occupy the property pending a hearing in State Supreme Court.

The temporary restraining order, issued by State Supreme Court Justice Paul J. Baisley Jr., orders the property vacated pending a Supreme Court hearing tomorrow. The Southampton Town Attorney's office will then seek a permanent injunction until Aquino-Perez corrects the plethora of code violations in her basement and garage living spaces. She must also obtain approvals for the second story of her home. Aquino-Perez was also slapped with an appearance ticket that charged her with 45 town and New York State Uniform Fire Prevention Building Code violations.

But with nowhere to live, many of Aquino-Perez's tenants might soon find themselves faced with a sobering reality as they struggle to secure new housing. And, just as Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney promised when he announced the bust on the hazardous residence, Riverhead's Peconic Community Council, a housing-based advocacy group, is ready to help.

According to Jennifer Giardini, Peconic Housing Initiative director, all of the residents who have been living in the Hampton Bays residence have received flyers, printed in Spanish and English, explaining that they can call the PCC offices or the Riverhead-based North Fork Spanish Apostolate. "So far," she sad, "we haven't received any calls." Should residents seek help, however, Giardini said PCC staff members will direct them to affordable rentals and other organizations geared toward assisting them in attaining new housing.

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 of the Hampton Bays home.

Once inside, conditions were reportedly horrifying: Heaney said 17 people — three children, one infant, eight men, and four women — were found to be living in unsafe and illegal conditions. Eleven bedrooms had been created in a home that had approval for just one conventional bedroom.

Inside the home, reported Heaney, there were no smoke detectors, open and exposed electrical wiring, as well as extension cords, which were a hazard, as were illegal stairways leading to a garage, which was also inhabited unlawfully.

"This is a situation where an illegal renovation creates the potential for serious risk to families," said the supervisor.

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.

Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi said the town's actions are proof of the board's aggressive approach to both health and safety and quality of life violations. Nuzzi said that he is working on a number of code enforcement initiatives, involving reorganization within town government to better address code enforcement needs.

"Our commitment is not only to protect the occupants who may be living in these dangerous conditions, but also to protect the quality of life enjoyed by the residents of the surrounding neighborhood," he said.

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