November 22, 2006

Code Enforcement Crackdown

Attention, Southampton Town code violators: You can run, but you can't hide.

In an aggressive attempt to force flagrant town code violators to face the music, Southampton Town ordinance inspectors have been working through the night and during irregular hours to investigate a litany of complaints of overcrowded housing, litter-strewn properties and other quality of life issues long plaguing town residents.

"We're using new measures to more effectively crack down on some of these code violations," said Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi. "The bottom line remains the same: For all those who thought the town isn't taking the enforcement of our code very seriously, think again."

Earlier this month, town ordinance inspectors visited dozens of properties during a nighttime sweep, investigating over 50 complaints concerning overcrowded housing, unregistered vehicles and other issues in the hamlets of Flanders, Riverside, Northampton, Hampton Bays, North Sea, East Quogue, Westhampton, Speonk and Shinnecock Hills.

Investigators hit the streets between 1:30 and 5:30 a.m. and ultimately issued a dozen summonses for violations including excessive, unregistered vehicles, improper taxi services and litter, as well as two stop work orders on construction sites.

Last week, the town board held a public hearing regarding enforcement actions to remove litter and junked vehicles from 1 Squires Pond Road in Hampton Bays, a site that's long been plagued by complaints. "The new mentality, or the way I feel about it, which I've been pushing at the town level, is if people are not going to pay attention to the summonses that are issued, and if the justice court and the judges are going to be lax time and time again, at some point we've got to make the decision to take administrative action and back-charge them," said Nuzzi.

After last Tuesday's hearing, the property owner was given two weeks to comply; if no changes are made, the town board will take action.

In recent months, said Nuzzi, the town has gotten tough, investigating properties and, if they are unsafe, cleaning and even boarding and securing them and then back-charging the owner on their tax bill.

But, assures Nuzzi, "We're using our discretion. It's not as though you leave a garbage bag outside one night and we're going to have code enforcement on your doorstep." However, he said, flagrant violators should take heed.

"Regular surveillance and responding to residents' complaints is our best defense against quality of life violations," said Supervisor Skip Heaney. "With additional resources in the 2007 budget, investigations and surveillance round-the-clock will continue at this level."

Nuzzi commended the efforts of all agencies, including the town attorney's office, town police, and ordinance inspectors, and said with the new budget in place, three investigators will be in charge of focusing on housing violations and quality of life issues.

Nuzzi has a message for absentee landlords "who don't care about the integrity of our neighborhoods, and just care about the money in their pockets: That's not going to be tolerated."

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