Thanks to a bill that was written by Senator Dean Skelos and Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, Nassau town supervisors now believe they have another effective weapon in the fight against illegal housing.
With the new law, municipal workers will no longer be forced to serve a landlord personally with a court appearance ticket for violations.
Named the "Nail and Mail," the law allows municipal building inspectors to post a summons at the location of an alleged illegal occupancy and serve a duplicate summons by certified mail after three unsuccessful attempts have been made to personally serve the property owner.
"Before this law was enacted, building inspectors were unable to bring landlords to court if they could not personally serve them with a summons," said Skelos. "Recalcitrant landlords will no longer be able to rent illegal apartments with impunity."
At a press conference held in front of an alleged illegal home on Maplewood Street in West Hempstead, Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray, Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman and Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto all applauded the efforts of state lawmakers in giving municipalities a way to bring owners of illegal occupancies to court.
The bill was signed into law in August by Governor George Pataki. According to Murray, now landlords who "know how to play the system" and evade building inspectors and their summonses will no longer be immune from court appearances simply by dodging the men and women whose job it is to serve appearance tickets.
"The legislation is very simple. In the past, you had to personally serve an absentee landlord. Now, the towns will be able to actually affix the summons to the door and service will have been accomplished," Skelos said. "People who come to Long Island come for a suburban way of life. We want to make sure that we continue to maintain the quality of life for the people who live here and I believe this legislation will do it."
Illegal housing has long been a concern for law-abiding citizens on Long Island. Some community leaders and civic activists believe that illegal housing not only creates dangerous conditions, it also puts a drain on a municipality's resources as well as the school systems.
"The problems of illegal housing has escalated over the last five years to a greater extent than it ever did before. We're finally seeing that we are being heard, that it is impacting our way of life and it must change," said Rosalie Norton, president of the West Hempstead Civic Association.
Patrick Nicolosi, who represents the Community Alliance, said fighting illegal housing is everyone's responsibility. "It's another tool that our town supervisor and employees can use to nail this horrible problem," he said of the legislation.
Kaiman, who once served as the commissioner of public safety in the Town of North Hempstead, said he learned firsthand how difficult it is to serve absentee landlords. Kaiman said the town is aggressively going after illegal landlords but serving had been the biggest problem. "We are going to be able to be more effective going forward," he said.
In the Town of Oyster Bay, a special task force was set up to deal specifically with illegal apartments. According to Venditto, in the last 12 months, the town has received nearly 1,000 complaints and closed out two thirds successfully. "While that is a good statistic, there is always room for improvement. This effort is just what the inspectors ordered in the Town of Oyster Bay. It is a very nice Christmas present to receive in the Town of Oyster Bay," Venditto said.
Supervisor Murray put the law to the test right away. A summons was affixed to the home on Maplewood Street in West Hempstead. Murray said the town in 2004 attempted to serve summonses on seven occasions but was unsuccessful in personally serving the homeowner.
Town officials went to a home on Linden Place they believe is owned by the same person and affixed an appearance ticket to the door of that home. The court date on the appearance ticket is for Feb. 1 at First District Court in Hempstead.
In addition to announcing the "Nail and Mail" legislation, Supervisor Murray also announced the Town of Hempstead has increased its fine for illegal dwellings.
According to Murray, previously fines were a maximum of $500 for the first offense, $1,000 for the second offense and $1,500 for the third offense.
The revised fines range from $500 to $1,500 for the first offense; $1,500 to $5,000 for the second offense and $2,500 to $10,000 for the third offense.