What to Know
- The I-Team was given a preview of a 106 page report that notes a breakdown from the Executive to local levels for NY code enforcement
- Inadequate training for code enforcement personnel, inadequate recordkeeping, and insufficient penalties for violations were among citations
- State Senator James Skoufis noted that the Town of Ramapo may be the worst offender, with "systemic fundamental problems"
“Firefighters are going to die. Tenants are going to die if the state and local officials do not start prioritizing code enforcement.”
Those words from Senator James Skoufis, chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Investigations & Government operations.
Skoufis and team members investigated four municipalities: Albany, Newburgh, Mont Vernon and the Town of Ramapo. Senators held a public hearing in Newburgh in May.
The I-Team was given a preview of a 106 page report that notes a breakdown from the Executive branch all the way down to local officials when it comes to code enforcement in New York State.
“My hope is that this report shines a light on how important this issue is, and quite frankly, gives a kick in the ass for officials to do a better job,” said Skoufis.
The investigation specifically cited: inadequate training for code enforcement personnel; inadequate recordkeeping; insufficient penalties for violations; difficulties associated with properties owned by LLCs; persistent vacant and abandoned buildings, and an upsurge in illegally converted properties.
The report says, “Exposed wiring, no means of egress, illegal conversions, absence of smoke detectors and rodent infestations, are just the tip of the iceberg for egregious violations found in homes across New York State.”
Skoufis noted that the Town of Ramapo may be the worst offender. “It has systemic fundamental problems when it comes to code enforcement.”
The I-team has documented issues of illegal conversions for years in Ramapo, which fire and safety experts say continued to exist, even after a state monitor was installed to oversee the building department in 2016. The monitor was removed in December of 2018 after the Department of State determined the town administration had met “minimum standards” for code enforcement.
Skoufis said he believed the monitor was pulled out prematurely and didn’t properly do her job when she was there.
Current Ramapo supervisor Michael Specht said he would not comment until he reviewed the report but said previously action has been taken to improve enforcement, noting there are legal limitations.
The report recommended the Department of State reinstall a monitor and that the Rockland County District Attorney retain the authority to prosecute code violations. It also said fines for violators statewide need to be more punitive.
The Senator was also sharply critical of mismanagement in Mount Vernon. “It is a hell-scape,” Skoufis said. “There is one code officer in a city of 70,000 people. It is outrageous.”