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GUEST VIEWPOINT: Rockland County’s War Against Culture of Non-Compliance
Since my administration successfully dug residents in Rockland County out of a $138-million deficit, we’ve been able to focus more resources on tackling unsafe housing despite Building and Fire Codes only being enforceable at the local level, not the county level.
As the County of Rockland does not have the authority to do inspections, except in the Village of Spring Valley, which was unprecedently granted on a temporary basis by the State of New York, I launched a first-of-its-kind Center for Rockland Codes Investigations (RCI) back in 2015 as a way around this. RCI can charge up to $2,000 per violation, per day, under the sanitary health code. Since inception, RCI has conducted over 46,000 inspections and issued nearly 60,000 violations countywide.
Those numbers since inception speak volumes. Using the Sanitary Code, we are getting compliance; we are seeing success. They are making the repairs they need to make. We are turning slumlords into landlords.
Is the fight over? Not even close—but we will not stop.
For the one-year anniversary of the Office of Buildings and Codes, the County of Rockland was honest in our description of the Village of Spring Valley as ground-zero for illegal housing issues, despite it not being the only municipality impacted, and all the work we’ve accomplished in that year has taken an incredible amount of money, time, resources, and manpower with hurdles around every single corner.
While most villages find only one or two violations per property, in the Village of Spring Valley we find an average of 10 and enforcement and fines are fought at every turn by landlords.
In one year, OBC issued over 7,500 violations and levied a quarter-million (dollars) in fines to property owners in Spring Valley.
Just last year our Department of Consumer Protection investigated 685 complaints in 2022, a 50% increase from the year prior, resulting in 142 prosecutions for unlicensed contracting and $88,000 returned to homeowners, up 80% from 2021.
We also recently hosted a housing forum for municipal leaders and stakeholders to brainstorm solutions surrounding the complex housing issues including affordability and are conducting a housing needs assessment to determine the major contributing factors contributing to this problem.
We agree that the New York State Department of State (NYSDOS) and Gov. Kathy Hochul need to do more. Just last year we put pressure on NYSDOS and Gov. Hochul when our OBC initiative, which they directed us to launch, was threatened by a lawsuit from a landlord. Despite all those attempts the state did nothing, refused to get involved, and we were on our own. We were undeterred. We moved forward and we won that court action.
Again, we stress the county does not have the authority to do Building and Fire Code inspections countywide that is done and enforced at the local level, but even if we could, no number of fines will correct this issue.
We are currently working with our state lawmakers to identify legislation that will help us combat these slumlords and keep residents and first responders safe.
It also comes down to electing people to towns and villages that share these concerns and will ensure development is done correctly and the rules are followed. In the last local races in 2021 only 25% of voters turned out. Voters need to do their part which is where this energy needs to be invested and directed come November.
We encourage residents to join us in this fight and direct the frustration we share at those contributing to this problem.
All complaints within the Village of Spring Valley can be reported to Office of Buildings and Codes at 845-364-3700 or emailing BuildingsAndCodes@co.rockland.ny.us.
Sanitary Code Violations countywide be reported to the Center for Rockland Codes Investigations at 845-364-2585 or by filing a report online.
Unlicensed activity countywide can be reported to Rockland County Consumer Protection at 845-364-3901 or CPLCAL@co.rockland.ny.us.