נאט אייך וואס עדעי שרייבט:
1. Cross reference utility records of O&R and United Water with property tax and zoning maps (Revenue Enhancing)
a. What it is: A thorough review, conducted by the County Executive’s office in cooperation with the town tax assessors, using their data and both United Water and Orange & Rockland’s data for electricity use, water use, and meters.
b. Why to have it: Oftentimes, zoning maps and actual occupancy/usage are not kept in strict compliance and agreement with each other – that is to say, that electric meters are often on apartments that are in fact illegal, through no fault of the utility company. Also, usage data is generally consistent – three families living in a one family house illegally will use much more electricity and water than one family in a lawfully occupied one. By cross-reviewing these records, illegal and dangerous occupancy violations can be determined and stopped before the residents and our volunteer first responders are put at risk in an emergency situation, and so that landlords pay fair levels of taxes for their properties.
2. Standard countywide fines for zoning violations $7500/day (Revenue Enhancing)
a. What it is: Once a property owner is determined to be in violation of any zoning law within Rockland County, they would automatically be faced with a fine of $7,500 per violation per day (which is equal to the highest fine for such a violation currently in place within Rockland’s borders) if the property is not brought back into compliance within the court-mandated timeframe.
b. Why to have it: Irresponsible developers are often also notorious scofflaws when it comes to zoning and occupancy. The simple fact is that there is often more of an incentive to continue to rent out illegal apartments, while pocketing the higher rent and paying the occasional fine, then there is to actually abide by the law. Likewise, the further along a development moves, the more difficult it is to actually stop it, and getting to the tipping point where a project is effectively complete could be worth a substantial sum of money to a developer (as evidenced in the court cases surrounding Ramapo’s stadium construction, amongst others). By imposing a substantial fine that accrues rapidly, the incentives are now reversed, and compliance with court decisions and zoning law is more likely – and the tenants and first responders are less likely to have to continue to face dangerous situations.
3. Create a Separate “County Code Court” to hear cases of code violations in Rockland(Revenue Neutral)
a. What it is: A separate County Court, like the County Drug Court, that would hear violations of building and fire codes, to be funded through the fines collected from code violators.
b. Why to have it: By pushing legislation to create a dedicated court with jurisdiction over such violations, all parties would be more likely to have an open and fair hearing in court when violations occur, due to their being taken from the specific area of occurrence. It would also ensure that the cases are given the due attention they deserve, due to it being the sole focus of the court, and direct enforcement and fines toward a reasonable and consistent standard.
4. Ignoring subpoenas results in $1,000 administrative fine per day for failure to appear(Revenue Enhancing)
a. What it is: If a person subpoenaed to appear in a zoning or environmental case in Rockland County ignores any lawful subpoena, having been duly served twice, an additional administrative fine will be levied automatically in addition to any contempt of court penalties a judge may see fit to apply.
b. Why to have it: A simple tactic to ensure monthly revenue from illegal apartments, or progress in an unapproved development, can continue despite court action is to simply ignore subpoenas. By stretching out the subpoena and appearance process, those in question can add months to a court battle, all while reaping the financial awards. By instituting a standard, flat, and substantial fine that accumulates rapidly once a subpoena issued by a lawyer party to the suit or by the court is delivered, as standard documentation required such as affidavits, these parties will immediately lose any incentive to ignore them. This will not only ensure more stringent compliance, but will move cases through the courts with a greater degree of efficiency. Finally, as an administrative fine, it would not be arguable and would automatically go into effect in such cases.
5. Countywide rental inspections and code enforcement conducted by a re-activated County Department of Health Housing Unit Rental Inspections group (Revenue Neutral)
a. What it is: The Department of Health Housing Unit Rental Inspections group, a currently-defunded department tasked with assisting at-risk renters avoid eviction and maintain safe and sanitary housing, would be tasked with conducting inspections of all rental properties (no more than once per year but at least every three years), as well as certifying all rentals prior to their initial occupation and enforcing code violations where necessary, with services to be paid for by a nominal fee charged to the landlord and fines.
b. Why to have it: Much as Health Inspectors conduct regular reviews of restaurants to ensure compliance with laws designed to maintain public safety and health, we must ensure that landlords as well are held to the standards laid out in the law. The current system of waiting for obvious violations to be reported by neighbors, or hoping that some local code enforcement officials might notice, is not sustainable and ripe for abuse. By maintaining regular and random on-site inspections, unsafe and illegal conditions can be corrected, thereby preventing developers from skirting the law and preserving the health and safety of poor tenants and first responders. By empowering the body with code enforcement authority along with the changes proposed in Point 2, it will give the added level of enforcement required to ensure that all areas are in compliance with fire and building codes.