Brookhaven officials are getting ready to increase fines levied against residents who purposefully violate town housing codes as well as introduce several new code amendments that will make it easier for town investigators to pursue action against them.
Supervisor Ed Romaine said fines would go from $2,000 up to $5,000 for what he called "unscrupulous landlords" who are convicted of a first offense; for a second offense, fines would go from $3,000 up to $10,000.
Additionally, new code amendments are being proposed that would increase the law department's ability to take action against landlords who run alleged illegal boarding houses. Romaine said the town board is exploring ways to prevent landlords who pave over entire front yards to "create parking lots where front lawns should be" from doing so. The town is also considering changing the duration of rental permits from two-year permits to one-year permits, and to also arrange for a process in which landlords wishing to rent to multiple unrelated tenants must go before an entity similar to the accessory apartment review board. The town is also exploring creating a registry of vacant, foreclosed and rental properties with the town clerk's office.
Romaine said he expects the town board to vote on these amendments at its April 2 meeting.
The new amendments and procedures follow a measure passed in 2012 that limited the number of unrelated people that can legally occupy a house in Brookhaven from eight down to four, and placed the burden of proof on the landlord instead of the town.
Romaine also suggested the town tax assessor's office may get involved – and said he has instructed his investigators to call the IRS whenever it's discovered that a landlord is collecting rents from multiple tenants in the case of illegal rentals.
The steps the town is taking come as a response to a specific housing problem in the Stony Brook area, where investors come in to purchase houses and illegally rent to more than four unrelated people – namely, students at Stony Brook University, who often find themselves packed with seven or more students in a single family home.
"This code will apply all over town. There's major areas but it's a different situation [from Stony Brook]," Romaine said. "There are areas all over town where you have problems like this...you walk into those homes and you'll find lots of code violations. Extension cords, that type of thing. That is driven by many times by people looking for affordable rooming houses, single people looking."
Town councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld backed the supervisor's remarks, which were made on Monday, and issued a statement urging residents to be continuously attuned to what's happening in their neighborhoods.
"Ultimately for our community to be successful in our collective efforts against unscrupulous landlords wanting to profit on the backs of our families' lost quality of life," he said, "we need the community to remain ever-vigilant and to report to our town law and public safety departments and the Suffolk County police what they see in real time."