Written by Carol Frank: firstname.lastname@example.org Friday, 30 March 2012 00:00
After years of complaints from residents of Steamboat Road about perceived safety violations of rental properties, Village of Great Neck Mayor Ralph Kreitzman announced that Village Justice Jon Mostel has convicted Sharok Jacobi on 19 potentially life-threatening violations of health, fire and safety codes. In addition to being ordered to pay $17,050 in fines, Jacobi will serve a term in jail, possibly up to eight months. Further, the court has directed that the landlord correct significant health and safety violations, and restore the property at 127 Steamboat Road to one that will support single-family occupancy.
According to the findings of the court, lives were at risk due to the violations of electrical, fire and housing codes. There were eight illegal apartments in the dwelling with one tenant in a locked closet. Insufficient light, ventilation and conditions that were described as “nearly uninhabitable” were found. Three small children were exposed to unsafe environmental conditions, including mold which was found in the air and walls of the property.
The difficulty in pursuing such cases by the village building inspector revolves around obtaining the evidence that is needed in order to secure a search warrant. Often, while neighbors complain about visible conditions of neglect, many, fearing reprisals from property owners being criticized, do not file affidavits. But most recently, a neighbor stepped forward to provide the necessary affidavit that resulted in the granting of a search warrant on Sept. 9, 2011. Once the building inspector was able to examine the interior of the house and document the violations, the investigation gained legs.
For example, some of the bedrooms were only 50 square feet, wires were hanging loose, mold was everywhere, and three bedrooms in the cellar all had external, keyed locks on the doors. The neighbor testified that he had seen at least a dozen men and women, plus three small children coming and going.
“We believe that the punishment fits the crime,” said Mayor Kreitzman. “This resolution serves as a reminder to those who are willing to exploit others for their own personal benefit. These actions clearly demonstrate a wanton disregard for the life, safety and welfare of others, and we will continue to play a role in assuring that these violations will not be tolerated.”
Playing into the decisive and stern sentencing was a history of prior convictions of the defendant for similar offenses that had resulted solely in fines. It became apparent to the officials involved that such fines became a “cost of doing business” and that by paying fines and continuing to lease space to an illegal number of individuals, he would recoup his fines in a few months.
In a letter that was delivered to the justice after he had made a guilty determination in the case, Mayor Kreitzman wrote, “When a resident bravely comes forward, despite such concerns (reprisals), and assists the village in such a prosecution, to the extent that such efforts prove successful and terminate such use, it helps set an example that other residents may emulate to terminate similar dangerous situations.” The letter went on to recommend imprisonment due to “deep concern for the health and safety of the residents of the village. It appears to be the only way to motivate the defendant to cease and desist his dangerous activities within the village.”
Trustee and village police liaison Mark Birnbaum commented, “It is important that our courts enforce our laws that are designed to protect the health and welfare of our community. I am delighted to be able to send a message to all who think that they can get away without following our safety codes.”
While the Record attempted to reach Mr. Jacobi for comment, he does not have a published phone number nor does he have an attorney in this case. It was noted in the sentencing decree that he had been advised several times by Justice Mostel to obtain a lawyer before proceeding to trial.
The court decision stated that Jacobi did not deny that he was the owner of the property or that the physical evidence of the conditions of the property were incorrect; rather, he offered documentation that he had no responsibilities for the property due to a lease with a third party for the use of the property. Records reveal that the third party is his estranged wife and that an order of protection prohibits him from “interfering with business of the alleged lessor.”
The judge ruled that the defendant had not established a legal basis for his claim that he was not responsible for the condition of the property.
Jacobi has until June 13, 2012 to correct the alleged violations and to restore the dwelling to single-family occupancy by removing the partitions, locks, the additional kitchen and cellar bathroom and correcting the wiring violations. His fine will be due then and the defendant will have the opportunity to show cause why the court should not require the counts against him for imprisonment be served consecutively.