I-Team: Battle Brewing Over Illegal and Dangerous Building Conversions in Rockland County

An investigation paralleling I-Team coverage found slumlords with illegal subdivisions and "rooming houses" are repeatedly failing local building codes and laws

What to Know

  • An I-Team investigation found illegal building conversions that officials say are dangerous and only getting worse
  • “The bad guys are doing whatever they want with impunity,” said one official who has seen what some slumlords have done.
  • Critics say the violations show a systemic pattern of failure to enforce building code laws

A new battle is brewing in Rockland County amid accusations of overdevelopment and illegal conversions.

Months ago, State Senator James Skoufis, who represents part of Rockland, launched an investigation into building code enforcement. His investigation parallels continuing coverage by the I-Team.

“We’re finding illegal subdivisions where walls appear where they should not be. We’re finding illegal rooming houses where slumlords are renting to vulnerable Spanish-speaking immigrants,” Skoufis said.

The I-Team submitted Freedom of Information requests for nearly two dozen properties in the town of Ramapo and the Village of Spring Valley. The locations were identified by members of the county’s illegal housing task force and building insiders as being persistent offenders for failing to follow local building laws and codes.

Many of the files in Spring Valley were incomplete or missing, according to Gordon Wren, the retired Director of Fire and Emergency Services, and a former Ramapo building inspector.

“Slumlords are doing whatever they want. It’s out of control,” Wren said. He added, “Firefighting is dangerous under any conditions. Then when you have these illegal conversions, it’s extremely dangerous.”

“It’s the wild west, and getting wilder,” said Justin Schwartz, chairman of the task force. “The bad guys are doing whatever they want with impunity.”

The I-Team obtained recent photos taken by a fire inspector at a private home in Monsey. The inspector noted an “obviously illegal yeshiva dormitory operating in basement with up to 6 beds per 4 overcrowded rooms, insufficient or blocked rescue and escape openings, missing smoke alarms, no CO alarms, and open/dangerous electric.”

The owner refused to comment on the photos the I-Team wanted to show her. A town spokesman said the violations have been cleared.

Critics say that property illustrates a systemic pattern of failure to enforce building code laws.

The I-Team also obtained a fire inspection for a property in Spring Valley housing a trailer for preschool children. The inspection was dated 2013. The inspector noted numerous violations and said he was looking to “shut your operation down.” There are no updated notations in the file, but the I-Team found children in the trailer and playing on the blacktop outside, with obvious hazards, including boards with nails, nearby.

No officials in Spring Valley would comment to the I-team. The Ramapo supervisor, Michael Specht said, “The safety of our residents and first responders is our top priority and that’s why was have been so diligent with the building inspection process—a process that has been looked at and validated by the State of New York.”

Skoufis plans to hold a hearing later in May on Ramapo and three other municipalities, including Mt. Vernon, Newburgh and Albany.

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