Public Hearing - May 23, 2019

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       4     -----------------------------------------------------

       5                        PUBLIC HEARING:

                       STATE CAN BE ENHANCED OR ASSISTED
                                  Newburgh Armory Unity Center
       9                          321 South William Street
                                  Newburgh, New York
                                           Date:  May 23, 2019
      11                                   Time:  9:30 a.m.


      13      PRESIDING:

      14         Senator James Skoufis, Chair
                 NYS Senate Standing Committee on
      15         Investigations and Government Operations

      16         Senator Brian Kavanagh, Chair
                 NYS Senate Standing Committee on
      17         Housing, Construction, and Community Development


      19      PRESENT:

      20         Senator Allesandra Biaggi

      21         Senator Neil D. Breslin

      22         Senator David Carlucci

      23         Senator Liz Krueger

      24         Senator Zellnor Myrie

      25         Senator Julia Salazar


              SPEAKERS:                               PAGE  QUESTIONS
              Jonathan Jacobson                         11       28
       3      Assembly Member
              Ken Zebrowski
       4      Assembly Member
              New York State Assembly
              Robert Magee                              47       50
       6      Corporation Counsel
              City of Albany
              Laura Felts                               71       79
       8      Homeless Prevention Program Coordinator
              United Tenants of Albany
              Gordon Wren                               85      102
      10      Retired Firefighter
              Citizens United to Protect
      11        Our Neighborhoods Representative

      12      Michael Acevedo                          124      132
      13      Rafael Rivera
      14      Orange County Landlord Association

      15      Joseph Donat                             160      166
              City Manager
      16      Jeremy Kaufman
              Assistant Corporation Counsel
      17      Michelle Kelson
              Corporation Counsel
      18      Bill Horton
              Assistant Fire Chief
      19      Alexandra Church
              City Planner
      20      City of Newburgh

      21      Catherine Johnson Southern               202      212
              Deputy Commissioner of Health
      22      Rockland County Department of Health
                 Also, Rockland Codes Initiative




              SPEAKERS (Continued):                   PAGE  QUESTIONS
              Michael Specht                           224      232
       3      Town Supervisor
              Dennis Lynch
       4      Town Attorney
              Town of Ramapo
              Richard Thomas                           266      277
       6      City Mayor
              Chantelle Okarter
       7      Commissioner of Planning
                Also, Executive Director,
       8        Urban Renewal Agency
              Theodore W. Beale
       9      Fire Commissioner
              Omondi Odera
      10      Housing Inspector
              Kim Knotts
      11      Housing Inspector
              City of Mount Vernon
              John Addario                             295      305
      13      Director, Division of Building
                Standards and Codes
      14      Matthew Fernandez Konigsberg
              Special Counsel for Ethics Risk
      15        and Compliance
              Department of State
              F.J. Spinelli                            339      363
      17      Deputy Fire Chief,
              Hartsdale Fire District
      18      Jerry DeLuca
              Director of Program and Outreach
      19      Joe Sauerwein
              Chair, Standards and Codes Committee
      20      Travis Dawley
              President, NYS Fire Marshals and
      21        Inspectors Association





              SPEAKERS (Continued):                   PAGE  QUESTIONS
              Chris Jensen                             366      371
       3      President
              Mark Schwarz
       4      First Vice President
              Eric Famiglietti
       5      Second Vice President
              New York State Building Officials
       6        Conference

       7      Elizabeth Zeldin                         374
              Director, Neighborhood Impact
       8      Enterprise Community Partners



















       1             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Hey, good morning,

       2      everyone.

       3             I want to welcome you all to this joint

       4      hearing between the Senate Investigation and

       5      Government Operations Committee, which I'm fortunate

       6      enough to chair, alongside Senator Kavanagh, my

       7      colleague who chairs the Senate's Housing Committee.

       8             Welcome to "housing day" in the city of

       9      Newburgh.

      10             We have this hearing, and then later this

      11      afternoon, Senator Kavanagh will be chairing a

      12      hearing on the housing and rent-control issues that

      13      we're debating at the end of session here in Albany.

      14             I want to welcome my other colleagues, and

      15      thank them for being here.  I know we'll be joined

      16      by a couple of others as we proceed.

      17             To my right, I have Senator Zellnor Myrie

      18      from Brooklyn, Senator Allesandra Biaggi from

      19      Westchester and The Bronx, and to my left -- or, to

      20      Senator Kavanagh's left, we have

      21      Senator David Carlucci from Rockland County and part

      22      of Westchester as well.

      23             This is the first code-enforcement hearing

      24      that I'm aware of ever taking place out of the

      25      Legislature.


       1             This is an important issue.

       2             It's timely, given the conversations that are

       3      taking place up in Albany.

       4             And, you know, a lot of people view code

       5      enforcement as some esoteric issue that, quite

       6      frankly, is more an annoyance for people who have to

       7      deal with it than anything else.

       8             But as we've seen here in the city of

       9      Newburgh, in the town of Ramapo, even just in

      10      today's "Journal News," where two girls almost

      11      drowned because of a violation at a house where

      12      there was no proper secured gates leading into a

      13      pool, this can be a matter of life and death.

      14             And so we want to get this right.

      15             We've been investigating this issue in four

      16      municipalities, in Ramapo, Newburgh, the city of

      17      Albany, and Mount Vernon, for the past four months.

      18             Our team has been gathering findings.

      19             We've been speaking with all sorts of

      20      officials, elected officials and otherwise;

      21      stakeholders, such as FASNY, firefighters, who will

      22      be testifying later today; and gathering all sorts

      23      of information: what's working, what's not working;

      24      and what we as a state should be doing better, what

      25      municipalities, quite frankly, should be doing


       1      better.

       2             And -- and, look, you know, there's been a

       3      lot of interest throughout the state in what we're

       4      looking at here.

       5             We've received calls, our team, from county

       6      executives throughout the state, actually asking to

       7      be investigated because they feel this is such an

       8      issue in their county.

       9             But I think that what we find in the report

      10      that we issue, which should be forthcoming shortly,

      11      will be able to be applied throughout the state, not

      12      just in these four municipalities that we're looking

      13      at.

      14             And so we have a -- a -- a robust list of

      15      witnesses who are going to be providing testimony

      16      today.  I want to thank all of them in advance.

      17             And before we get to our first two witnesses,

      18      I want to turn it over to my co-chair today,

      19      Senator Kavanagh.

      20             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Thank you,

      21      Senator Skoufis.

      22             And thank you all for being here.

      23             And thanks to the other members of the

      24      Senate, the respective committees that are

      25      co-chairing this hearing today.


       1             This is the fourth hearing this month of the

       2      Housing Committee.

       3             We have one additional hearing, as has been

       4      mentioned, later today, right here in this room in

       5      Newburgh, beginning at 2:30.

       6             And then a final hearing on the other major

       7      topic we've been focusing on this month, which is

       8      the rent-regulation laws and various tenant

       9      protections, and that will be in Greenburgh, at

      10      Greenburgh Town Hall, on Tuesday -- this coming

      11      Tuesday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

      12             But we're very happy to be here.

      13             And I do want to just begin by thanking my

      14      Co-Chair of this hearing, Senator Skoufis; and the

      15      Investigations and Government Operations Committee,

      16      and the staff of that committee, for really putting

      17      this issue of how code enforcement is working in

      18      various localities around the state, front and

      19      center in our conversations this year about what we

      20      can do differently to support the notion, that

      21      I think we all agree on, that everybody deserves a

      22      decent place to live.

      23             We are on a parallel track having these very

      24      in-depth conversations about the rights of tenants

      25      vis-a-vis their landlords, around regulations of


       1      rent, and the ability to continue to live, and

       2      whether -- under what circumstances people can be

       3      evicted.

       4             But we know that -- from lots of experience

       5      over many years, that the ability of our

       6      governmental agencies to set basic standards, and

       7      then to enforce those standards, not just for the

       8      tenants that are most active or most organized or

       9      have the best lawyers, but just as a general

      10      standard in -- that our society agrees to adhere to

      11      in our housing.

      12             So it's -- this is a very important part of

      13      this conversation.

      14             And, again, I -- the -- Senator Skoufis and

      15      the Investigations and Government Operations

      16      Committee have really led the way, and we're very

      17      happy to be partnering with them on this.

      18             I do want to acknowledge Nick Rangel, the

      19      counsel to the Housing Committee is here, as well as

      20      my chief of staff, Shana Mosher, and,

      21      Cleveland Stare who is on my staff, and also serves

      22      as clerk to the Housing Committee.

      23             And they've been a very important part of

      24      this as well.

      25             So, thank you, and, without further ado, I'll


       1      turn it back over to Senator Skoufis.

       2             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you,

       3      Senator Kavanagh.

       4             And before we jump in, I do want to

       5      acknowledge and thank Bill Kaplan for allowing us to

       6      be here in the Newburgh Armory.

       7             For those of you who are not from Newburgh,

       8      it wasn't that long ago that the place that we're

       9      sitting in right now was a derelict, unused large

      10      building.

      11             And as you can see, it's been transformed

      12      into, really, an incredible space.

      13             And if you come here on a Saturday morning,

      14      you'll see 600 kids taking part in all sorts of

      15      learning activities.

      16             And it's really been transformative here in

      17      the city of Newburgh.

      18             So thank you, Bill Kaplan, for allowing us to

      19      be here.

      20             I also want to thank my staff for, not only

      21      their support at this event, but also my

      22      investigative team -- our committee's investigative

      23      team, for the work the past four months on this

      24      issue.

      25             So with that, we'll get started.


       1             Our first two witnesses are Assembly Members.

       2             One, Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson from where

       3      we are here in the Newburgh area, and

       4      Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski.

       5             And, you know, if I may, Senator Kavanagh and

       6      I have chosen to -- to use the authority sort of

       7      vested in our committees, under Section 62-A of the

       8      legislative law, to swear in each witness today, so

       9      that the testimony that you all provide will be

      10      under oath.

      11             So, if you may, just raise your right hand,

      12      and, do you solemnly swear that you will tell the

      13      truth, the whole truth, and nothing but truth, so

      14      help you God?

      15             ASSEMBLYMAN JONATHAN JACOBSON:  I do.

      16             ASSEMBLYMAN KEN ZEBROWSKI:  I do.

      17             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.  Thank you.

      18             So let's get started.

      19             Jonathan Jacobson.

      20             ASSEMBLYMAN JONATHAN JACOBSON:  Thank you.

      21             Thank you, Senator Skoufis and

      22      Senator Kavanagh, for having these hearings today on

      23      code enforcement.

      24             James Peterson, Robert Richardson, and

      25      Jewell Cummings, this is why I'm here today.


       1             You might have known them, or even heard of

       2      them.

       3             Mr. Peterson lived at 53 Lander Street.

       4             Mr. Richardson and Ms. Cummings lived at

       5      55 Lander Street.

       6             Lander Street is not far from this hearing.

       7             The three of them died within a two-week

       8      period in March of 2015 due to carbon monoxide

       9      poisoning.

      10             Their rented apartments in the buildings

      11      which are -- did not have -- because they rented

      12      apartments in buildings which did not have carbon

      13      monoxide detectors as required.

      14             Those three deaths prompted my run for

      15      office, and, eventually, election to the city

      16      council in 2017, and, currently, in the Assembly.

      17             Code enforcement is basic to quality of life.

      18             Proper code enforcement leads to stable, safe

      19      neighborhoods.

      20             Proper code enforcement helps everyone's

      21      property values.

      22             Children learn better when their homes are up

      23      to code and their neighborhood is up to code.

      24             In order to have successful code enforcement,

      25      a municipality requires two things:  First, a


       1      commitment; and, second, resources.

       2             Otherwise, it is merely wishful thinking.

       3             Older cities, such as Newburgh and

       4      Poughkeepsie, which I represent, do not have the

       5      resources.

       6             There must be a commitment by the State of

       7      New York to provide the resources for municipalities

       8      in order to do code enforcement.

       9             The State should develop a CHIPS program for

      10      code enforcement so that all municipalities will

      11      have the resources necessary.

      12             CHIPS, for those who do not know, is one of

      13      the programs that the State has to provide funds for

      14      repair of streets and roads.

      15             That's a commitment that's made every year,

      16      it's in the budget.

      17             We should do the same for code enforcement.

      18             We must also consider the law as it stands.

      19             Often, an overworked building department will

      20      not know about the problems until they're big

      21      problems.

      22             Tenants are reluctant to complain for two

      23      reasons:

      24             First, they are fearful of retaliation and

      25      eviction.


       1             Second, they're afraid that if code

       2      enforcement does inspect the property, the property

       3      will be condemned and they will have no place to

       4      live.

       5             One solution, and this is just a step, would

       6      be to have a requirement of a new certificate of

       7      occupancy when any property is transferred.  This

       8      should at least apply to multifamily residences.

       9             When I started practicing law many years ago,

      10      we had this requirement in the city of Newburgh:

      11      Banks would not close on loans if there was a no --

      12      if there was no new certificate of occupancy.

      13             This requirement should be a state

      14      requirement.

      15             I believe this would pay for itself, because

      16      there would be a charge from the local

      17      code-enforcement people, that would pay for the --

      18      the people to come by for the inspection.

      19             And this way -- this way, we don't just wait

      20      at the end, till the roof is falling down, where, at

      21      least, each time we do things.

      22             Sometimes they'll be in better neighborhoods

      23      where the only thing is -- or -- or the house is

      24      fine, but we have to do sidewalks.

      25             But at least by doing this on a regular


       1      basis, we just don't wait till the end when the

       2      building is falling down.

       3             Senators, I hope that when you finish these

       4      hearings and produce a report, you will recommend

       5      important reforms.

       6             Code-enforcement problems are not -- as you

       7      know, are not restricted to any one part of this

       8      state.

       9             I look forward to working with you and the

      10      Assembly to address this pressing problem.

      11             Thank you for letting me participate in this

      12      hearing.

      13             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thanks, Assemblyman.

      14             Assemblyman Zebrowski.

      15             ASSEMBLYMAN KEN ZEBROWSKI:  Good morning,

      16      Chairman Skoufis, Chairman Kavanagh, to the other

      17      members, the senators, of the substantive and

      18      investigative committees.

      19             Thank you for allowing me to be here today to

      20      share some of my thoughts and experiences as an

      21      Assembly Member who's been involved in these issues.

      22             I've represented Rockland County for the past

      23      12-plus years; specifically, the towns of

      24      Clarkstown, Haverstraw, and a few of the villages,

      25      and the town of Ramapo.


       1             As you know, we have a system where local

       2      governments enforce the uniform fire prevention and

       3      building codes.

       4             This locally-driven model requires that

       5      municipalities employ individuals who inspect

       6      buildings and issue violations, and the municipal

       7      court system adjudicates these violations.

       8             The State has broad authority over the

       9      administration and enforcement of the code by local

      10      governments in Section 381 of the Executive Law.

      11             The State provides for training and

      12      certification of code-enforcement officials,

      13      inspection procedures, and fees; however, code

      14      enforcement varies widely between municipalities,

      15      and the State rarely gets involved to ensure proper

      16      administration of the law.

      17             I've seen a breakdown of code enforcement in

      18      Rockland County with a proliferation of illegal

      19      structures, including housing and schools.

      20             There are hundreds of examples in

      21      Rockland County where the failure of proper code

      22      enforcement has led to situations, such as, 20 or

      23      more individuals living in a single-family home,

      24      schools without certificates of occupancy that are

      25      operating today as we have this hearing, housing


       1      developments that are built significantly outside of

       2      the scope of site plans.

       3             And many people in Rockland County look at

       4      these municipalities and ask, how did we get here?

       5             And the fact of the matter is, it's a slow

       6      process where a culture of non-compliance is created

       7      and eventually becomes the norm.

       8             There are two types of recalcitrant

       9      municipalities in terms of code enforcement:  Those

      10      who lack capacity and those who lack a desire.

      11             Some municipalities choose to bend over

      12      backwards to work with landlords and property owners

      13      who are in violation of the uniform code.

      14             And although municipalities should work with

      15      some properties who are in violation to come into

      16      compliance, there must be an understanding that the

      17      municipality will pursue legal remedies, swiftly and

      18      strictly, to ensure safety and compliance.

      19             Without enforcement credibility, there is

      20      widespread non-compliance in many municipalities.

      21             Temporary certificates of occupancy can

      22      continue for years, court cases adjourned

      23      continuously until the property seemingly falls

      24      through the cracks.

      25             A recent example in Rockland is a school that


       1      was issued a temporary certificate of occupancy

       2      while they worked towards a permanent structure.

       3             Their temporary CO expired, but they

       4      continued to operate on the property.

       5             Literally, years went by, with little action

       6      by the municipality.

       7             Finally, after pressure and media accounts,

       8      the Town petitioned the Court to issue an order to

       9      vacate the premises.

      10             This is a tool local governments can use,

      11      obtaining a judicial order to vacate a premises

      12      until the property comes into compliance, and, let's

      13      understand, become safe.

      14             Despite the Town obtaining the order from the

      15      Court, to this day there's been no action upon it.

      16             Non-compliance continues, the culture of

      17      non-compliance is solidified, and there is sense --

      18      there becomes a sense that it's easier to ask for

      19      forgiveness than for permission.

      20             And while have I concerns countywide, I've

      21      worked extensively with the department of state over

      22      the past six years, asking for intervention in two

      23      specific municipalities: the town of Ramapo and

      24      village of Spring Valley.

      25             I have written 13 letters to the department


       1      of state, spanning two different secretaries of

       2      state, urging the department to use their authority

       3      in Section 381 to take unprecedented action to

       4      correct what I describe as a pervasive lack of code

       5      enforcement.

       6             The department took a deliberative approach

       7      at first, by opening informal investigation,

       8      conducting site visits to municipalities, visiting

       9      specific properties, and interviewing local

      10      officials.

      11             After their initial investigation, and

      12      finding such failures as, not conducting regular

      13      inspections, not maintaining proper records, other

      14      inappropriate conduct, including a building

      15      inspector convicted on criminal charges related to

      16      their official duties, the department issued orders

      17      to both the Town of Ramapo and Village of

      18      Spring Valley, citing deficiencies in their building

      19      departments, and ordering the municipalities to

      20      immediately cure the violations.

      21             Eventually, the department appointed two

      22      state employees as oversight officers to each

      23      municipality to oversee their building departments.

      24             While I initially celebrated this action,

      25      I can testify today before your committees that the


       1      State's intervention fell far short of my

       2      expectations, and the expectations of the

       3      firefighters and community activists I work with.

       4             While they may have instituted better

       5      procedures, protocols, computer systems, they have

       6      failed to change the culture of non-compliance.

       7             I'll give you one example.

       8             My office and the Illegal Housing Task Force

       9      came across a group of trailers that were,

      10      literally, plopped on a piece of property in

      11      Rockland County and were being used as a school for

      12      several hundred students.

      13             Water was being provided by a hose from an

      14      adjoining property, and electric was, literally,

      15      rigged from the next-door property as well.

      16             To say these trailers were out of compliance

      17      would be a gross understatement.

      18             Now, instead shutting this dangerous system

      19      down, working to ensure that these children are in

      20      other school systems, and treating it as the safety

      21      crisis it is, the monitors worked with the property

      22      owners to make sure that they -- what they met, what

      23      they determined, to be the bare-minimum standards.

      24             The bare-minimum standards should not be good

      25      enough for children that are learning in this state


       1      and in our county.

       2             You know what the bare minimum included?

       3             These trailers were supposed to have a

       4      sprinkler system to meet the code.

       5             Because there was no sprinkler system, a fire

       6      hydrant was necessary to be in close proximity to

       7      the school.

       8             The monitor worked with the property owners

       9      to install a temporary fire hydrant in order to meet

      10      this code; however, this fire hydrant was

      11      non-functional, as was found out by the local fire

      12      departments.

      13             I believe it was because of pressure

      14      problems.

      15             However, to this day, how a non-functioning

      16      fire hydrant can meet the code specifications,

      17      literally, shocks me as a legislator that has been

      18      involved in this issue.

      19             If this is the type of enforcement landlords

      20      can expect, why would anyone spend the money

      21      necessary to build an appropriate school?

      22             Just throw up the cheapest structure

      23      possible, and if you get in trouble, work with

      24      whoever is in charge to comply with the loopholes

      25      and some patchwork fixes.


       1             Well, I can tell stories all day.

       2             I do want my testimony to focus on some of

       3      the concrete bills and regulations that can be

       4      changed in order to tackle this issue, and I'll just

       5      run through a few.

       6             It should mean something to alter a structure

       7      in a way that threatens the lives of residents and

       8      firefighters.

       9             There's Assembly bills pending, 1797, 2128,

      10      3343.  They increase fines, they set minimum fines,

      11      and they create criminal penalties for behavior that

      12      create a hazardous condition that can result in

      13      injury or death to first responders or residents.

      14             A1906, overhauls the school-inspection

      15      process.

      16             Current rules and regulations go back

      17      decades, they provide no meaningful oversight, and

      18      allow unqualified people to conduct inspections.

      19             A1976, properties that do not comply with

      20      zoning codes should not be allowed to have

      21      tax-exempt status by the municipality or the State.

      22             A3800, the County of Rockland should be able

      23      to put unpaid housing violations on property tax

      24      bills to ensure compliance.

      25             In an era of LLCs, changing ownership, the


       1      property tax bill is the safest way -- is a failsafe

       2      way to get fines paid, and strict fines can lead to

       3      actual compliance, which is what we're looking for.

       4             Many of these bills are sponsored by members

       5      of your panel, Senator Carlucci, Senator Skoufis,

       6      and others, but they've not gotten over the finish

       7      line yet.

       8             I request your help in getting legislation

       9      like this to the top of our list in the Legislature.

      10             I do want to touch briefly on the department

      11      of education, because, as I said, in my county, a

      12      lot of times we're talking about schools, where

      13      children learn, right now.

      14             We've had a collaboration to overhaul the

      15      private-school fire-inspection process.

      16             I want to commend Commissioner Elia and her

      17      staff who have taken this issue seriously and worked

      18      to improve an outdated and ignored system.

      19             We started this process after a fire in

      20      Rockland County, one that, when the firefighters

      21      went in, deplorable conditions were found.

      22             After the firefighters came to my office,

      23      I asked for a fire-safety inspection report from the

      24      school, which is something that's required to be

      25      filed annually by all of these schools.


       1             And what we find -- found out was, not only

       2      was this report not filed in the department of

       3      education, it wasn't conducted.

       4             And, quite frankly, schools are either

       5      sending these reports up to the State, or they

       6      weren't.

       7             They were either put in a filing cabinet, or

       8      they weren't.

       9             There was, literally, no enforcement related

      10      to these type of inspections.

      11             Because of this process and this instance, we

      12      have completely overhauled this process.

      13             The department now tracks these reports.

      14             They send out reminders and delinquency

      15      notices, and enforces non-compliance.

      16             But what we need to do is to give the

      17      commissioner more teeth, specifically authorizing

      18      her to order the inspections when a school refuses.

      19             As I said earlier, A1976 would achieve that.

      20      And I believe Senator Carlucci is the sponsor of the

      21      bill in the Senate.

      22             In conclusion:

      23             This issue is complex.

      24             Lax code enforcement can both ruin the

      25      quality of life of a neighborhood and also threaten


       1      the safety of residents and first responders.

       2             It preys upon vulnerable populations, and it

       3      rewards irresponsible behavior.

       4             Landlords and building owners who skirt the

       5      building codes should be held accountable with

       6      specific enforcement action that results in

       7      meaningful penalties that include bringing the

       8      property up to compliance.

       9             There are many critical players in the

      10      code-enforcement system, and a breakdown at one

      11      level, any level, can lead to this culture of

      12      non-compliance.

      13             Oftentimes, multiple layers of enforcement

      14      can become lax.  Everyone involved blames each

      15      other.

      16             Buildings inspectors must diligently inspect

      17      properties regularly and cite violations.

      18             Local prosecutors should be aggressively

      19      ensuring that dangerous conditions do not linger and

      20      that building owners are held accountable.

      21             And even judges need to adjudicate cases

      22      quickly, and ensure that these cases are adjudicated

      23      in a manner that acts as a deterrent, and not just

      24      the cost of doing business.

      25             Not just a $250 compromise or order.


       1             What does that do for a building owner when

       2      there's an unsafe condition?

       3             And, lastly, I want to say, local elected

       4      officials must create a culture where code

       5      enforcement is a priority, and the culture and the

       6      municipality is one where non-compliance will not be

       7      tolerated.

       8             Part of this can be fixed by legislation,

       9      I mentioned above, and other bills we could draft

      10      and work on together.  But some of it can't be fixed

      11      by legislation.

      12             If those that are charged with enforcing the

      13      law, prosecuting the crimes, and adjudicating the

      14      cases do not push for a culture of compliance, all

      15      the legislation in the world will still leave a

      16      gaping loophole.

      17             Some of you know that I'm running for

      18      district attorney, and I'm not here to talk about my

      19      candidacy, but one issue really is relevant to this

      20      discussion.

      21             Many people do not realize that enforcement

      22      of these laws lies, actually, with the district

      23      attorney's office, and they deputize the

      24      municipalities in order to do that process.

      25             I've pledged, and other district attorneys


       1      around this state should do also, to no longer

       2      automatically deputize all of these municipalities

       3      to conduct these prosecutions.

       4             There should be an annual review of the

       5      system and intervention where necessary.

       6             The State of New York also needs to

       7      understand that the buck stops with them.

       8             It may be difficult, it may take additional

       9      personnel, it will certainly lead to local

      10      controversies, but the state must properly assume

      11      its role in this process.

      12             We need a robust process, where

      13      municipalities are properly trained, and properly

      14      investigating, to ensure the safety of the public.

      15             I fear a day will come where we have a

      16      tragedy.

      17             And, afterwards, there will be a big press

      18      conference, with calls for change in oversight.

      19             But if that day comes, we will all know that

      20      we had the opportunity to prevent that tragedy, but

      21      we turned the other way.

      22             I want to thank you, Chairman Skoufis,

      23      Chairman Kavanagh, all the members that are here

      24      today, because you're not turning the other way, and

      25      you're giving this issue the attention it deserves.


       1             I pledge my collaboration with all of you to

       2      change the culture of compliance in New York State.

       3             Thank you.

       4             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you, Assemblyman, for

       5      that illuminating testimony.

       6             I just have a couple of questions, if I may,

       7      and then I'll turn it over to any colleagues that

       8      have questions.

       9             You know, the department of state is here, we

      10      will be hearing from them later.

      11             You touched on the fact there was a state

      12      monitor sent to the town of Ramapo.

      13             Did you have any interaction with that

      14      monitor while she was there?

      15             Can you talk a little bit about, you know,

      16      how that relationship worked, if it worked at all?

      17             ASSEMBLYMAN KEN ZEBROWSKI:  Minimal, minimal.

      18             I envision, and the activists and the fire

      19      departments envisioned, a robust collaborative

      20      process, where complaints could be filed, there

      21      could be collaboration, discussions, about what

      22      they've seen.

      23             We really have to rely on the first

      24      responders in our counties.

      25             And, I don't want to speak for them.  I think


       1      some of them may be here later.

       2             But I can speak for my collaboration, the

       3      meetings I had with them, and suggest to you that

       4      there was very minimal, if not any, real

       5      collaboration with the monitors there.

       6             The only real meetings I ever had were

       7      meetings where the department of state would --

       8      I can think of one in my office where they brought

       9      the monitors forward.

      10             And that just led to a situation where, quite

      11      frankly, they were in the building departments, like

      12      I said, they made some changes, but there was not

      13      the type of, like, robust dialogue that would have

      14      been helpful in the county.

      15             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.  Do you think the

      16      monitor was prematurely removed?

      17             ASSEMBLYMAN KEN ZEBROWSKI:  Yes, absolutely.

      18             I don't think that we could -- that you could

      19      pack up and say the problems were solved.

      20             And, certainly, you couldn't do that without

      21      sort of having discussions with our local fire

      22      officials who are, literally, out responding to that

      23      whistle every day and seeing these conditions.

      24             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  You touched on another

      25      issue that, quite frankly, you know, I and we had


       1      come to learn, just as part of this investigation,

       2      which is that DAs annually waive this authority,

       3      as you mentioned, to prosecute code enforcement.

       4             I was pretty shocked to learn that.

       5             Why do you think most, if not all, DAs,

       6      including the Rockland DA, waive that authority?

       7             ASSEMBLYMAN KEN ZEBROWSKI:  Tradition.

       8             It's historically how it's been done.

       9             As you know, everybody is sort of pushed and

      10      pulled by budgets, and things like that.

      11             And so it's just been something that has not

      12      been seen as under the purview of the district

      13      attorney's office.

      14             However, they have the expertise, they have

      15      the logistics, and, really, they have the know-how

      16      in order to make sure that these cases are truly

      17      prosecuted.

      18             As I said earlier, it's like it's not just

      19      the inspectors, but, like, after that, you have to

      20      have -- you have to have prosecutors and judges that

      21      are making sure that the cases just aren't adjourned

      22      for months and months, years and years; that the

      23      properties are, literally, what you're asking of the

      24      judge, is that they be brought up to compliance, not

      25      just a $250 fine.


       1             What does a $250 fine do for a structure?

       2             So I think that that is a key component, that

       3      district attorneys across the state should sort of

       4      be having an annual review process.

       5             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  And I appreciate that.

       6             ASSEMBLYMAN JONATHAN JACOBSON:  And I just

       7      want to mention that most of the fines are, for

       8      example, $250 a day.

       9             And what we should make it, so that the rules

      10      for evidence and to prosecute are easy, so that

      11      if -- if the inspector goes there on day one, takes

      12      pictures and has proof, and then goes back on

      13      day 20, and nothing has changed, now it's 20 days.

      14             Now it's a $5,000 fine, plus to get it done.

      15             But too often there's only the fine with,

      16      really, no teeth into making sure that the repairs

      17      are done.

      18             So you have to look at both ways and make

      19      sure that the process works.

      20             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Well, what we found is

      21      that, you know, on the onset, it is a 250 -- up to a

      22      $250 fine under state law, and then up to $1,000 per

      23      day, subsequent, to not curing that deficiency.

      24             But, you never see that actually implemented;

      25      right?


       1             So we will talk a little bit more about that

       2      with other witnesses.

       3             I'm good.

       4             Anyone else?

       5             Yes, Senator Carlucci.

       6             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Well, thank you.

       7             Well, thank you, Assemblyman Zebrowski and

       8      Assemblyman Jacobson for the testimony.  It's very

       9      helpful.

      10             And thank you to the committee for being

      11      here.

      12             So, a few things.

      13             We talked about the judicial system, and

      14      I know that's been a frustration of ours for a long

      15      time.

      16             What type of recommendations do you think we

      17      could make in terms of making sure we have more

      18      accountability on the judges?

      19             Like we said, $250 a day, $1,000 a day, a

      20      $30,000 fine gets let go at $250.

      21             So there's no real incentive.

      22             We found that maybe statute of limitations, a

      23      requirement to speed up these cases.

      24             Do you have any insight on that or thoughts

      25      on what we could do to try to hold accountability?


       1             I know we have members from the Illegal

       2      Rockland Housing Task Force, and they sometimes go

       3      to the court to try to just put that presence and

       4      that reminder to the judge, that there's an impact,

       5      that there's a face to this problem.

       6             Do you guys have any thoughts on that?

       7             ASSEMBLYMAN KEN ZEBROWSKI:  Yeah, a few

       8      things.

       9             Certainly, I respect the purview of judges

      10      and their role within the process.

      11             I think there's some things we can do within

      12      the law, minimum fines, requiring that there be set

      13      structures for unsafe properties, so that there's,

      14      like, a given, sort of, road map that judges have to

      15      follow.

      16             But also I think, as I said, the State needs

      17      to be looking holistically at these situations in

      18      these counties, and recognizing where properties are

      19      remaining in non-compliance for years, and,

      20      literally, step in and have much more robust

      21      oversight and input into this process, because, as

      22      I said, everybody sort of points the finger at

      23      somebody else.

      24             The inspectors say, Well, I brought the

      25      violation, but the prosecutors didn't prosecute.


       1             They say, Well, you know, the judges never go

       2      for that type of thing.

       3             The judges say, Well, the prosecutors don't

       4      really ask for compliance.  They only ask for the

       5      fines and they consent to the adjournments.

       6             So it's really tough to figure out where

       7      along that line the truth is.

       8             So I really think the State needs to have a

       9      far more robust process in terms of overseeing these

      10      municipalities and ensuring that doesn't happen.

      11             ASSEMBLYMAN JONATHAN JACOBSON:  If the

      12      landlord looks at this as purely a business

      13      situation, it might be cheaper to pay the fine.

      14             So I think we have to change the law, that

      15      would allow the State or the local municipality to

      16      come in, make the repairs, and then put that as a

      17      lien on the property.

      18             Because we have to remember, the reason we're

      19      repairing this is not because we have a code.

      20             We're repairing it because of the people that

      21      live there.

      22             So I think, ultimately, we might have to have

      23      the power where you come in and step in and get it

      24      done.

      25             Now, unfortunately, Newburgh or Poughkeepsie,


       1      we don't have the money to go in and make the

       2      repairs, so now you are in a catch-22.

       3             So you want to make sure that there is the

       4      authority to do the repairs, but that the State

       5      comes in, there's money to do it, so that the

       6      landlords know there's going to be this lien on the

       7      property.  And then you can foreclose on a lien, and

       8      so forth.

       9             But it has to be more than just the fine, and

      10      just making it that it's a business deduction for

      11      these landlords.

      12             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  You know, one of the

      13      things we talk about, and was mentioned, is about

      14      this culture; the culture of leniency, of not having

      15      strict compliance.

      16             And we talk about the DAs around the state

      17      waiving this right to prosecute code-enforcement

      18      penalties.

      19             And we've been talking about it, the

      20      committee very concerned about this issue.

      21             And I think it speaks to the fact that this

      22      is not a priority, and we have to change that

      23      because it will be devastating.  Right?

      24             The DA will move in when there's a fire and

      25      someone was killed, but they weren't there in the


       1      first place to prevent it from happening.

       2             How would you feel about possible legislation

       3      restricting a district attorney's ability to

       4      unilaterally waive that right to prosecute

       5      code-enforcement penalties?

       6             ASSEMBLYMAN KEN ZEBROWSKI:  I think you're on

       7      the right path.

       8             We'd have to work with the district

       9      attorneys' offices and the county executives and the

      10      legislatures to ensure that the personnel is there

      11      and that the logistics are there, so that they do

      12      it.

      13             But we should certainly be looking at the

      14      situation to figure out, how can we encourage the

      15      district attorneys' offices, either through a

      16      requirement or through increasing their ability,

      17      because I do believe that they have far more

      18      expertise in this process.

      19             Like I said earlier in my testimony,

      20      sometimes it's lack of desire, sometimes it's a lack

      21      of capacity.

      22             So sometimes it may just be assistance and

      23      logistical help to the town or village attorneys.

      24             Sometimes it may be actual intervention and

      25      taking it over themselves.


       1             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  And then, just last

       2      question:  In regards to the monitor, and I know

       3      we've worked closely on this together, but, for the

       4      committee, would you be able to give us, if we were

       5      able to get the monitor back in Ramapo, what would

       6      be the recommendations in terms of how we can

       7      improve that process?

       8             ASSEMBLYMAN KEN ZEBROWSKI:  Well, first off,

       9      I would suggest that we -- we need to ensure that

      10      they are meeting with, sort of, the Illegal Housing

      11      Task Force, with the fire departments, that there is

      12      a regular set of communication, weekly, biweekly,

      13      whatever works, taking into complaints.

      14             We should almost have a checklist of these

      15      things we've talked about, everything from, how many

      16      temporary COs? how long are they on the books?

      17             Let's get them down.

      18             What happened to allow something to be

      19      operating as a school with a temporary CO for a

      20      year, two years, three years?

      21             We need like almost a checklist, a road map,

      22      of where we're going and when we'll feel

      23      comfortable.

      24             We need to involve the county fire

      25      coordinator, all the fire chiefs.


       1             That's the type of process I envisioned on

       2      the front end.

       3             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Well, there's more

       4      transparency, with the public, with the

       5      stakeholders, to know, exactly, what is the monitor

       6      doing on the ground?

       7             ASSEMBLYMAN KEN ZEBROWSKI:  Yeah, our first

       8      responders know the problems, they know the

       9      properties.

      10             They're just not really being asked or

      11      collaborated with in terms of fixing those problems.

      12             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.  Thank you.

      13             Thank you, Chairman.

      14             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  I failed to recognize that

      15      Senator Liz Krueger has joined us, representing

      16      Manhattan.

      17             Do you have a question?

      18             SENATOR KRUEGER:  I do, thank you.

      19             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay, great.

      20             SENATOR KRUEGER:  Thank you both so much for

      21      your testimony this morning.

      22             And we had a different housing hearing last

      23      night in Albany, and the last group of people to

      24      come to testify were actually from Rochester, and

      25      they were describing a code-enforcement crisis,


       1      literally, for themselves.

       2             And now I come to Newburgh, another section

       3      of the state outside of New York City, and I hear

       4      you testify, and even your recommendations.

       5             And I just want to say, not only do they ring

       6      correct, I think for the state of New York, I will

       7      tell you that these would matter in New York City as

       8      well.

       9             When you pointed out, Assembly Member, that

      10      we really need to be able to use the property-tax

      11      section of law to collect fines, that is crucial in

      12      New York City as well, because everything is owned

      13      by an LLC.  No one can figure out who's behind, or

      14      even a member of, the LLC.

      15             So the ability of a city as big as New York,

      16      to figure out who you're penalizing for failing to

      17      meet our building codes and having violations build

      18      up, is enormous.

      19             So, that makes so much sense for your

      20      communities right here, as well as it would for the

      21      city of New York.

      22             I also want to ask, because I think the City

      23      does believe it has a building-code enforcement

      24      system in place stronger than most other parts of

      25      the state, we fund ours using federal


       1      community-development block grant funds.

       2             Do you know how your communities or counties

       3      are trying to fund their code-enforcement efforts,

       4      and are they eligible, possibly, to draw down on

       5      this source of funding as well?

       6             ASSEMBLYMAN KEN ZEBROWSKI:  I believe they're

       7      funded mainly through local property tax and the

       8      local budget.

       9             It's a good question, Senator, I don't know

      10      the answer to, whether or not they get grant funding

      11      from the federal government.  And, if they don't,

      12      whether or not they should be availing themselves

      13      and applying for that.

      14             That's a good point.

      15             And if I could just add to your first point,

      16      it really is a statewide issue, and we should.

      17             And we went through this process last year in

      18      the Assembly, and they granted authority to only a

      19      few municipalities to actually add the violations to

      20      the property tax bill.

      21             And I found it patently unfair.

      22             Rockland County was one of those that was

      23      excluded.

      24             And, quite frankly, every municipality should

      25      be handling -- should be given that tool.  It's like


       1      a tool in their box.

       2             And why some municipalities should allow

       3      that, and others, it just seems unfair to me.

       4             SENATOR KRUEGER:  Thank you.

       5             ASSEMBLYMAN JONATHAN JACOBSON:  The City of

       6      Newburgh has attempted to have a landlord registry,

       7      and there was pushback on that.

       8             And one of the reasons you need a landlord

       9      registry is, if you have a problem, you don't know

      10      who the owner is.  And the fire department or the

      11      code-enforcement people need to contact the

      12      landlord, and you don't have a phone number.

      13             And so that's something that could be done,

      14      that needs to be done, as well.

      15             And it's -- it's -- the city of Newburgh is

      16      different than, say, in where have you towns where

      17      they don't think of code enforcement, because they

      18      think they're in suburbs and they don't have

      19      problems.

      20             When you're in cities, you know you have

      21      problems.

      22             And, here, it's really lack of resources.

      23             I believe there's a commitment, but not as

      24      much.  And it would be better when you have the

      25      resources.


       1             SENATOR KRUEGER:  Thank you.

       2             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you.

       3             Senator Kavanagh.

       4             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  I'll be brief.

       5             I just -- first of all, I had the great honor

       6      of serving in the Assembly for many years, and

       7      particularly serving with Senator -- with

       8      Assembly Member Zebrowski.

       9             I did not overlap with Senator (sic)

      10      Jacobson.

      11             But welcome, both you, and thank you for

      12      testifying today.

      13             Just -- I -- I just want to follow up on this

      14      issue of whether the government has the authority

      15      and the resources to make repairs directly.

      16             I mean, New York City, as Senator Krueger

      17      mentioned, we have emergency repair program, where

      18      the City will go in in egregious cases, after

      19      attempting to get the landlord to do repairs in --

      20      you know, in egregious cases, and make them

      21      themselves, and then -- and then impose that as a

      22      lien on the property owner.

      23             Are you aware of -- are there any localities

      24      in your jurisdictions or outside of New York City

      25      within the state, that you're familiar with, that


       1      have that authority or that run any kind of program

       2      like that?

       3             ASSEMBLYMAN JONATHAN JACOBSON:  To make the

       4      repairs?

       5             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  To make -- to actually

       6      make emergency repairs, and then, you know, try to

       7      get reimbursed for those (indiscernible).

       8             ASSEMBLYMAN JONATHAN JACOBSON:  Oh, to step

       9      in?

      10             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Yes.

      11             ASSEMBLYMAN JONATHAN JACOBSON:  No, I --

      12      I haven't heard of that.

      13             I mean, it only happens at the very end,

      14      when -- it will happen when the building is

      15      abandoned.  It will happen when the City takes it

      16      over for taxes.

      17             And then because there was such a problem

      18      with the City having to pay school taxes, we

      19      established the land bank, and they will do things

      20      before it gets resold.

      21             But, generally, no.

      22             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  They're doing -- they're

      23      doing -- at that stage, they're doing work directly

      24      on the property, to shore it up, to make it

      25      minimally safe, and then try to transfer it off


       1      government ownership?

       2             Is that --

       3             ASSEMBLYMAN JONATHAN JACOBSON:  I don't

       4      believe so.

       5             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Okay.

       6             ASSEMBLYMAN JONATHAN JACOBSON:  I mean,

       7      I know that Chief Horton is here, and others from

       8      the city of Newburgh.  They can testify more.

       9             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Okay.

      10             ASSEMBLYMAN KEN ZEBROWSKI:  I think there's

      11      some tools within the condemnation process, for

      12      really unsafe, crumbling-type, sort of, structures,

      13      for lack of a better descriptive word.

      14             I don't know if they have the tools within

      15      what we see sometimes with, you know, 10 or

      16      12 apartments, attics, unsafe exits.

      17             We've had in schools dead-bolted doors, and

      18      sort of things like that.

      19             What their process is to go into those

      20      structures, which, literally, aren't like crumbling,

      21      but are set up in such a way that they are safety

      22      risks to the people that are occupants and to the

      23      first responders.

      24             I'm not sure that they actually have that

      25      authority.


       1             ASSEMBLYMAN JONATHAN JACOBSON:  I know on the

       2      city council we had a vote to take down buildings,

       3      because the building was going to collapse and

       4      destroy the building next door.

       5             But, usually, it only -- it's only when it

       6      gets to that point.

       7             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Right.

       8             So I think, you know, Senator Jacobson, you

       9      mentioned earlier, that one of the concerns that

      10      folks have, when they're seeking to have codes

      11      enforced in the places where they live, is that the

      12      result may just be, you know, that the place is

      13      condemned or there's an eviction order, and people

      14      need to be removed.

      15             So I think, you know, I hope today, from, you

      16      know, witnesses we're going hear from, that we can

      17      talk about the question of how to keep people in

      18      place and keep their residences safe for occupancy,

      19      rather than, you know -- you know, more drastic

      20      means that end up, you know, hurting the very people

      21      that we're trying to help.

      22             But I appreciate your -- the testimony of

      23      both you (indiscernible) today.

      24             ASSEMBLYMAN JONATHAN JACOBSON:  Because, when

      25      you don't have enough housing, where are you going


       1      put people?

       2             And so you're in a catch-22, and they say,

       3      Well, I'd rather survive where I got 'cause at least

       4      I have a roof over my head.  I don't have to -- at

       5      least I know where I'm going to live, I know where

       6      my kids are going to be.  But I don't know what I'm

       7      going to do if they come in and say, yeah, the

       8      building is terrible, get out.

       9             ASSEMBLYMAN KEN ZEBROWSKI:  So, 100 percent,

      10      Senator.

      11             And I believe a lot of these landlords

      12      actually have the funds and the money to make sure

      13      that they're code-compliant.

      14             But, instead, they don't, because it's

      15      cheaper.

      16             And you do see marginalized communities that

      17      are sort of preyed upon, and they're afraid to file

      18      complaints because they'll be retaliated against by

      19      the landlords, collecting cash, and just forcing

      20      people into deplorable conditions.

      21             And if we all made this a priority, I think

      22      we would make a lot of people's lives better.

      23             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Thank you both.

      24             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thanks very much.

      25             ASSEMBLYMAN KEN ZEBROWSKI:  Thank you so


       1      much, Senator.

       2             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Next up, from the City of

       3      Albany, will be Robert Magee, corporation counsel.

       4             As you sit down, if I may, you know, my team

       5      that has been working with these municipalities

       6      tells me that the City of Albany has been

       7      exceedingly cooperative, really above and beyond our

       8      expectations.

       9             And so I want to thank you personally, and

      10      your city government, for your work, and viewing

      11      this as an opportunity to really demonstrate to us,

      12      what's working well, and how we as a state could be

      13      more helpful.

      14             So, thank you.

      15             And if you may raise your right hand.

      16             Do you solemnly swear that you will tell the

      17      truth, whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so

      18      help you God.

      19             ROBERT MAGEE:  I do.

      20             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you.

      21             Welcome.

      22             ROBERT MAGEE:  Thank you.

      23             And I wanted to thank you and the rest of the

      24      committee, as well as Chief of Investigations

      25      Mazzariello, Ms. DiBernardo, for all their help with


       1      our participation in this investigation.

       2             I want to thank you for the attention you're

       3      focusing on this issue; I think it's really

       4      important.

       5             So, as you said, my name is Robert Magee.

       6             I'm deputy corporation counsel for the

       7      City of Albany.

       8             Before I was in this role, I was -- I served

       9      for three years as the director of buildings for the

      10      City of Albany.

      11             And in the time I've worked in code

      12      enforcement, I've really seen our code-enforcement

      13      officers, the people on the street, enforcing the

      14      code on existing buildings, really doing some

      15      incredible things.

      16             I mean, they're routinely called to act

      17      outside their job descriptions.

      18             I've seen them shelter victims of domestic

      19      violence.

      20             I've seen them help navigate the channels of

      21      bureaucracy for new Americans who have just come to

      22      this country.

      23             They've resolved disputes between neighbors.

      24             And they do this on a routine basis.

      25             And the services that they provide as


       1      code-enforcement officers are critical for the

       2      safety and health and well-being of New Yorkers,

       3      particularly renters.

       4             I want to, you know, reference the landlord

       5      registration program that was just spoken about.

       6             We've -- we implemented that in Albany in the

       7      late '90s, and since then we've actually seen a

       8      reduction of 50 percent of the instances of fire.

       9             And that's a pretty, you know, solid

      10      statistic that you can point to, but that there's

      11      also a substantial benefit to letting

      12      tenants/renters know that they have someone that

      13      they can go to, who can put eyes on the conditions

      14      that they're living in, and be a neutral third-party

      15      witness in a court case.

      16             And it is also, to a certain extent, a

      17      service to landlords who may not be able to see

      18      their property.

      19             We are keeping an eye on their buildings,

      20      we're letting them know about problems, and we're

      21      working with them to get those problems resolved.

      22             So I was very, very heartened to hear this

      23      investigation was happening, and I'm really happy to

      24      see this discussion is moving forward in the way

      25      that it is.


       1             And with that, I'll close, and just open the

       2      floor to questions.

       3             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay, great.

       4             Thank you.

       5             Do you require, in your registration -- your

       6      landlord registry, to -- to sort of have LLCs

       7      reveal who their owners are?

       8             How do you treat LLCs in the city?

       9             ROBERT MAGEE:  So the LLC, on their

      10      registration form, they'll need to appoint a

      11      property manager.  There needs to be some individual

      12      that we can talk to.

      13             So usually it will be, you know, the owner

      14      will be, you know, 12 Main Street, LLC, it's

      15      typical.  And then you'll have, you know,

      16      Albany Property Management, and there will be an

      17      individual that we would contact, based on that.

      18             And then, based on the information that's put

      19      on that form, that person becomes someone that we

      20      can provide formal notice of code violations, and

      21      provide that person.

      22             And that becomes kind of a jurisdictional

      23      basis for the code-enforcement action that will come

      24      later.

      25             OFF-CAMERA SPEAKER:  (Inaudible.)


       1             ROBERT MAGEE:  Yes.

       2             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  How often does your housing

       3      court meet?

       4             ROBERT MAGEE:  Once a week.

       5             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Once a week?

       6             ROBERT MAGEE:  Once a week.

       7             On the third Thursday of the month, it

       8      doesn't -- once a week, three times a month.

       9             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Great.

      10             One of the things that we found is, you know,

      11      some violations across the state, quite frankly,

      12      sort of languish in court for a long time.

      13             And, you know, there are motions to adjourn

      14      after motions to adjourn after -- and violations can

      15      languish for, when -- we've found, for years,

      16      literally.

      17             Can you speak to that issue in the city of

      18      Albany, and, perhaps, the scope of that problem?

      19             And what, if anything, the City has done or

      20      maybe you should be doing in that respect?

      21             ROBERT MAGEE:  Yeah, for the very difficult

      22      code violations that we find, there's really, like,

      23      there's either the very obstinate owner that doesn't

      24      want to make a repair, or, it's an owner we can't

      25      identify.


       1             So, for vacant buildings that's a big

       2      problem.

       3             What we will do is, essentially, you know, we

       4      move each case to a trial.

       5             The trial happens.

       6             If a case gets to trial, we're routinely

       7      imposing, you know, ten to twenty thousand dollars

       8      in fines.

       9             And then, the next day, the code-enforcement

      10      officer is back out there, sees it, and we start

      11      that process again.

      12             Once we take the judgment from a given trial,

      13      though, you know, that gets filed as a lien against

      14      the property.

      15             And then that individual also gets kind of

      16      blacklisted with the buildings department until the

      17      situation is resolved.

      18             So, if you own multiple buildings, and you

      19      want to get a residential occupancy permit, which is

      20      something you need to rent property, or if you need

      21      to apply for a building permit, you can't get that

      22      at the buildings department until you've work out

      23      whatever the code violation you have on -- on your

      24      other building is.

      25             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  What's the largest fine in


       1      recent years that has been levied?

       2             ROBERT MAGEE:  Three months ago we got a fine

       3      of $45,000 for a very large vacant building.

       4             But I think the highest I've heard of is

       5      $80,000.

       6             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.  Thank you.

       7             Senator Carlucci.

       8             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Thank you, Chairman.

       9             And, Mr. Magee, thank you for your

      10      testimony today.

      11             Now with those fines, was that -- did the

      12      City of Albany collect the $45,000?

      13             ROBERT MAGEE:  No.

      14             As far as I know, no.

      15             The way we manage enforcement in Albany, is

      16      they actually get filed criminal fines, like a

      17      speeding ticket.

      18             And the fine is actually owed to the court,

      19      so the money would come into the court.

      20             But, if they had paid the fine, I'm sure

      21      I would have heard about it.

      22             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  And with the landlord

      23      registry, how have you found compliance with the

      24      registry?

      25             And do you have any teeth if you're unable to


       1      get an owner or a building manager?

       2             ROBERT MAGEE:  Yeah, we do have a lot of

       3      teeth, and I think it comes from two places.

       4             We've had it -- we've had the process up and

       5      running so long, that our, you know, department of

       6      social services, and just the culture in Albany,

       7      they know that, if you're renting, you need that

       8      ROP, so people will ask for it.

       9             But then, also, if a landlord wants to pursue

      10      an eviction against a tenant, our court will not let

      11      them do that until they've actually obtained an ROP.

      12             So that's -- that's a good -- that's a good

      13      sticking point.

      14             And then, also, if we know a building is

      15      being rented and they don't have an ROP, you know,

      16      it gets cited as a normal code violation and it will

      17      be subject to fines.

      18             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  And what would you say is

      19      the biggest challenge in terms of code enforcement

      20      for the City of Albany?

      21             Is it the resources?

      22             Is it the culture?

      23             ROBERT MAGEE:  I think it's always resources.

      24             I mean, you can always use more eyes on the

      25      street, that would be really important.


       1             The problem that we have -- that our

       2      code-enforcement officers find, actually, most

       3      routinely, is being able to contact the owners,

       4      especially for vacant properties.

       5             But it --

       6             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  The biggest problem,

       7      you're saying?

       8             ROBERT MAGEE:  Yeah.

       9             So the situation with LLCs is finding

      10      someone who will actually answer when you pick up

      11      the phone or send a letter.  That can be extremely

      12      difficult.

      13             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  And so you're saying that

      14      it's not necessarily you're having a compliance

      15      problem on the actual apartments, but it's the

      16      vacant buildings where you're unable to get

      17      compliance with who owns this building?

      18             ROBERT MAGEE:  That's correct.

      19             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  So --

      20             ROBERT MAGEE:  I mean, when someone's --

      21      yeah, when someone's at the property, they're

      22      invested in it, and you can talk to that person.

      23      They usually have an interest in getting it

      24      repaired.

      25             It was vacant buildings that can be a little


       1      more difficult.

       2             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay, so that -- so you --

       3      would you suggest legislation that would require

       4      transparency in terms of LLCs, to know who owns

       5      these actual properties, have some sort of contact

       6      information?

       7             ROBERT MAGEE:  Yes, (indiscernible

       8      cross-talking).

       9             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  So even with the registry,

      10      it's still a problem, but particularly on the vacant

      11      properties?

      12             ROBERT MAGEE:  Yeah, that's correct.

      13             And with LLCs, in particular.

      14             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  And then how about, in

      15      terms of infrastructure, we know some

      16      municipalities, as the Assembly Members had talked

      17      about before, are using -- you know, they have the

      18      resources, some don't.  It varies dramatically

      19      depending on priorities, depending on resources.

      20             How do you track your cases?

      21             Do you have the appropriate software?

      22             Is that something that the State could help

      23      with in terms of having a universal software

      24      program, or helping municipalities to pay for that?

      25             Could you talk about that a little bit?


       1             ROBERT MAGEE:  Yeah, so we actually

       2      implemented a software system while I was buildings

       3      director, and that was actually a huge boon to our

       4      productivity, and our ability to track landlords and

       5      properties across -- well, across -- track

       6      properties across landlords.

       7             I think a program that would help

       8      municipalities do that, and a program that would,

       9      you know, standardize how things were done, would be

      10      extremely helpful.

      11             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  So you're talking about a

      12      standardization of the type of software used in

      13      these departments?

      14             ROBERT MAGEE:  Yes.

      15             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.

      16             ROBERT MAGEE:  Yes.

      17             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  And then

      18      Assemblyman Jacobson had talked about a proposal,

      19      and I wanted to hear your opinion, being the counsel

      20      for the City, he had talked about this idea of not

      21      being able to sell a property or transfer a property

      22      until you have a CO.

      23             Sounds good, but I know we would probably, in

      24      the city of Albany, maybe have some issues with

      25      that, with the amount of buildings that are vacant.


       1             Have you thought about that proposal at all,

       2      or could you speak to that?

       3             ROBERT MAGEE:  I have not thought about that

       4      proposal at all.

       5             I know that, you know, in Albany, anyway,

       6      most of our buildings were built before COs were

       7      issued.  So that would be difficult in a lot of

       8      those cases.

       9             But I know, informally, a lot of that

      10      happens.

      11             I mean, we get a lot of inquiries from

      12      realtors, people looking to buy or sell buildings,

      13      looking to see if their building has a clean bill of

      14      health.

      15             And I think, you know, a formalization of

      16      that process might -- would be useful.

      17             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  And then, last question:

      18      In terms of funding code enforcement, do you receive

      19      any support from outside of the city taxpayers?

      20             ROBERT MAGEE:  Yes.

      21             So we have one of our code-enforcement

      22      officers is funded through a block grant.

      23             But, otherwise, the department actually is,

      24      it's a revenue-generating department for the city,

      25      through permit fees and our residential-occupancy


       1      permit fee, and a couple of our other registration

       2      programs.

       3             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  And can -- can -- you can

       4      verify that, that it's actually -- is it making more

       5      than it's actually spending?

       6             ROBERT MAGEE:  Yes.

       7             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.

       8             Thank you.

       9             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Next will be

      10      Senator Kavanagh.

      11             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Thank you.

      12             I have a great many questions, but, given the

      13      range of witnesses, I'll try to keep this brief.

      14             Just, first of all, you said that, in Albany,

      15      you require a residential occupancy permit in order

      16      to rent housing to others; is that correct?

      17             ROBERT MAGEE:  Correct.

      18             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Is that for any level, any

      19      sort of size?

      20             Like, if I have a single-family home and

      21      I rent it out, I need a permit?

      22             ROBERT MAGEE:  Yes.

      23             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Okay.

      24             And you have high rates of compliance with

      25      that?


       1             ROBERT MAGEE:  Yeah, I think, at any given

       2      time, we've estimated we have, probably, around

       3      85 percent compliance.

       4             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  How does -- how -- what

       5      is -- what are the implications -- what are the

       6      consequences of renting housing without having a

       7      residential-occupancy permit in place?

       8             ROBERT MAGEE:  The concrete one is that, if

       9      you try to evict one of your tenants, you won't --

      10      our City Court won't let you actually process that

      11      eviction until you've obtained the ROP.

      12             But, also, it's something the tenants know to

      13      ask for.

      14             So if you're looking to rent an apartment,

      15      often the tenant will know to ask for it.

      16             And it's just a tool the tenants can use to

      17      ensure that, you know, the buildings that they're

      18      living in are in compliance with the building code.

      19             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Okay.

      20             And the -- the 15 percent, roughly -- rough

      21      figure, that are not compliant, is that concen --

      22      I mean, do you -- does it tend to be landlords that

      23      are otherwise not compliant, or is it just sort of

      24      spread (indiscernible) people?

      25             ROBERT MAGEE:  I think it tends to be lapses,


       1      that would -- that -- that -- yeah, it tends to be

       2      people who have forgotten to renew it.

       3             The way -- I mean, I wasn't there when it was

       4      passed, but, the renewal period is every

       5      2 1/2 years, and that can be difficult for folks to

       6      remember, that they need to renew it.

       7             But if they don't renew it, they get a

       8      reminder notice.

       9             Usually they -- they'll come into compliance,

      10      eventually.

      11             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  And is that -- and that's

      12      pursuant to local law --

      13             ROBERT MAGEE:  Correct.

      14             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  -- to the city -- to the

      15      city law?

      16             Okay.

      17             And just on the -- just to follow up on

      18      Senator Carlucci's questions, can you give us a

      19      sense of the scale of the -- of the spending on your

      20      code-enforcement operation, and the amount of

      21      revenue that's being generated?

      22             ROBERT MAGEE:  I can provide specific numbers

      23      later.

      24             I want to say, we spend about 1.2 million per

      25      year, and I think we bring in around 1.8.


       1             But I -- it's in our budget, I can provide

       2      that information.

       3             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Okay.

       4             Yeah, we would appreciate more specifics.

       5             And if there is any breakdown as to, sort of,

       6      what the -- you mentioned various -- and you

       7      previously mentioned various sources of that, if you

       8      could give us a sense of what the breakdown is of

       9      the 1.2 and of the 1.8, that would be appreciated.

      10             ROBERT MAGEE:  Absolutely.

      11             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Thank you.

      12             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Senator Biaggi.

      13             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Oh, thank you,

      14      Senator Skoufis.

      15             Thank you very much for being here with us

      16      today.

      17             I want to, I think, start from the top.

      18             And, you know, you listed lots of different

      19      issues, and since you are the corporation counsel,

      20      I think it's good to look at this from a legal

      21      frame.

      22             So if you could rank the issues in order of

      23      priority for the Legislature, how would you rank

      24      them?

      25             ROBERT MAGEE:  Well, I'm -- I have to admit


       1      to not being fully versed on what's on the

       2      Legislature's plate right now.

       3             But I think, in terms -- I understand that

       4      there's a lot of legislation that is out there, that

       5      will stabilize landlord rental relationships, some

       6      protections that tenants can have to stay in their

       7      apartments.

       8             I think that's really important.

       9             One of the things, the problems that we face

      10      in Albany, is that, especially in neighborhoods that

      11      have a high rental population, is there's a

      12      population turnover.

      13             And there's a population turnover, so

      14      neighbors don't get to develop relationships with

      15      one another.  They don't learn to advocate for

      16      themselves before us.

      17             And I think anything that the State can do to

      18      help keep people in their homes will help us with

      19      code enforcement.

      20             I think those two things are tied very, very

      21      closely.

      22             I'm not sure to where to rank this, but

      23      I think it would be great if the State of New York

      24      had a statewide plumbing and electrical licensing

      25      system.


       1             Right now, that's done by municipality, and

       2      the result, I think, is just a lack of availability

       3      of electricians and plumbers.

       4             And that's very critical when you're facing,

       5      especially in an unsafe/unfit situation, where you

       6      have identified faulty wiring.

       7             So that's one of our -- the most common

       8      issues in which we'll issue an unsafe-and-unfit

       9      order, meaning, it's condemnation order, saying that

      10      people aren't able to live there.

      11             It will be faulty electrical systems.

      12             And those buildings will be out of commission

      13      for weeks because people can't find a licensed

      14      electrician to do the work.

      15             So if -- you know, the more licensed

      16      electricians we can have, the better.

      17             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Okay, thank you.

      18             You mentioned also that, you know, each year

      19      there's a whole host of LLCs that are unable to be

      20      identified.

      21             And I think that that seems to be the common

      22      theme, and I will predict that it probably will be

      23      the theme throughout the rest of the day.

      24             In Albany, how many LLCs per year do you

      25      estimate you're unable to identify an individual


       1      that you can be in touch with?

       2             And do you think that that is one of the

       3      reasons why there's such a large number of vacant

       4      properties that just stay condemned?

       5             ROBERT MAGEE:  Yeah, it's hard to even put a

       6      number on it.

       7             But it would probably -- when you're talking

       8      about vacant buildings, probably on the order of,

       9      like, 150 to 200 --

      10             SENATOR BIAGGI:  A year?

      11             ROBERT MAGEE:  Yeah.

      12             -- are owned by LLCs, so we can't reach

      13      them, can't reach -- you know, reach anybody.

      14             Among rental properties, what we've done

      15      through State, the Attorney General's Office,

      16      actually, is we have access to a program called

      17      Building Blocks, and that's enabled us to use data

      18      to kind of suss out actually who's behind LLCs, in

      19      particular, by grouping them by their contact

      20      information.

      21             So, if all these LLCs have a common PO Box,

      22      for instance, if we know who is responding at

      23      12 Main Street, we'll know who will respond at

      24      18 Main Street.

      25             So, that's been helpful.


       1             SENATOR BIAGGI:  So what do you do when you

       2      can't get in touch with an owner of a property;

       3      what's the next step?

       4             ROBERT MAGEE:  Well, we -- so, yeah, so we go

       5      based on the tax information.

       6             We send out the notice of violation.  That

       7      gets kicked back.

       8             If we -- then we do an informal search on our

       9      records.

      10             Sometimes someone's applied for a permit

      11      somewhere else and used another address.  And then

      12      we go there.

      13             Once we've exhausted our internal records,

      14      we'll talk to our police department.  They have

      15      access to databases that we don't.

      16             If they're not able to contact anyone, then

      17      we have a private-investigator firm that we use.

      18             If they're not able to find anyone, we kind

      19      of just start the process over again.

      20             SENATOR BIAGGI:  I mean, how helpful is it to

      21      be able to access the tax records?

      22             Because, presumably, the owner is paying

      23      taxes on the property.

      24             So if -- by accessing the tax returns on the

      25      property, would you think that that's a good legal


       1      mechanism?

       2             ROBERT MAGEE:  Yeah, I'm sure, if the taxes

       3      are being paid, absolutely.

       4             I mean, one of the things we find with vacant

       5      buildings in particular, is the property-contact

       6      address will be that property.

       7             So, I mean, it wouldn't be a silver bullet,

       8      but it would definitely be helpful.

       9             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Okay.

      10             And last question, it kind of goes back to

      11      what you were talking about earlier:

      12             You mentioned ROPs?

      13             ROBERT MAGEE:  Uh-huh.

      14             SENATOR BIAGGI:  And you said that tenants

      15      know about these, or they know to ask about these,

      16      from their landlords.

      17             So I think one of the issues that I see, at

      18      least, in the district that I represent in

      19      The Bronx, mainly, is that a lot of tenants don't

      20      know their rights or don't really know what to ask

      21      for.

      22             So why do the -- or, how, rather, I should

      23      say, how do the tenants in Albany know about this,

      24      and what have you done to raise awareness?

      25             ROBERT MAGEE:  Uh-huh.


       1             Well, our code enforce -- I mean, our

       2      code-enforcement officers are in the field all the

       3      time, so they're talking to tenants and they're well

       4      versed on it.

       5             We're lucky to have really good advocacy

       6      organizations.  You're going to hear from Laura,

       7      United Tenants; we have Legal Society of

       8      Northeastern New York; and a couple other

       9      organizations, that are really out there in the

      10      community, telling people about these sorts of

      11      things.

      12             It's also -- you know, the information is

      13      available on our website.

      14             Yeah, those are the main ways

      15      (indiscernible).

      16             SENATOR BIAGGI:  That's helpful.

      17             That was mainly a selfish question of how

      18      I can do better in The Bronx.

      19             Thank you very much.

      20             ROBERT MAGEE:  Thank you.

      21             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you.

      22             And Senator Krueger I know has a question.

      23             SENATOR KRUEGER:  Oh, thank you so much,

      24      Senator Skoufis.

      25             This is a great hearing this morning today.


       1             Thank you very much for having this.

       2             So you mentioned, I believe, that, in Albany,

       3      you actually can stop landlords from eviction cases

       4      or over -- or, charging rent, unless they've met

       5      your requirements in code enforcement.

       6             New York City also has that rule, although

       7      not nearly enough tenants know about it.

       8             Were you able to do that through a change in

       9      city regulations?

      10             Or, how did you put that into place?

      11             ROBERT MAGEE:  That predates me, but

      12      I believe it came from an interpretation by our City

      13      Court of our city code that the judges have upheld

      14      since the program was put in place.

      15             SENATOR KRUEGER:  So, actually, so,

      16      Senator Skoufis, for my colleagues, I think it's

      17      important for all of us to realize that that is

      18      another tool we can help our localities choose to

      19      use for themselves, because, while I agree

      20      completely about the importance of making people

      21      register, actually Senator May has a bill that

      22      requires, if we pass that, that a landlord must

      23      provide every tenant with contact information of,

      24      who are the owners of the LLC?

      25             So there's -- as you're describing, they have


       1      to register in the city.

       2             They should register, but sometimes they

       3      don't.

       4             But if you actually require it, or we require

       5      by law, that they have to provide that information

       6      to tenants, that's another important tool.

       7             But I think it's critical -- and so thank you

       8      for bringing it up -- that, you know, it's a

       9      contractual relationship between a landlord and

      10      a tenant, whether it's residential or commercial.

      11             And so, if one side isn't doing what they're

      12      supposed to do, you can't penalize people in the

      13      court system.

      14             And so I do think that's an amazing tool, to

      15      remind localities, or build into state law, that we

      16      could ensure that every locality knows that they

      17      have that option.

      18             Thank you?

      19             Thank you for your testimony.

      20             ROBERT MAGEE:  Thank you.

      21             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you very much for

      22      your testimony, and your assistance over the past

      23      many months.

      24             Thank you.

      25             ROBERT MAGEE:  Everyone, have a good day.


       1             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Next up will be

       2      United Tenants, represented by Laura Felts.

       3             (Inaudible) testified yesterday as well in

       4      Albany, so thanks for continuing to share your

       5      insight.

       6             If I can ask to you raise your right hand.

       7             Do you solemnly swear that you will tell the

       8      truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,

       9      so help you God?

      10             LAURA FELTS:  Yes.

      11             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you.

      12             LAURA FELTS:  Thank you, folks, so much for

      13      having me.

      14             And to a couple of you, thank you for hearing

      15      from me again.

      16             Just 16 hours ago, I guess, I was seeing you

      17      and speaking with you.

      18             So my name is Laura Felts.

      19             I'm the Homeless Prevention Program

      20      Coordinator at United Tenants of Albany.

      21             United Tenants is a community-based,

      22      non-profit organization that's located in the city

      23      of Albany.

      24             United Tenants formed in 1973 in response to

      25      poor housing conditions and the lack of code


       1      enforcement in the neighborhoods of Albany.

       2             Code-enforcement issues in rental housing are

       3      of the utmost importance to the work that I do at

       4      United Tenants every single day.

       5             I've been with the organization for

       6      four years, and in that short time I have attended

       7      court with over 1,200 households, to stand with them

       8      as they face the possibility of losing their home to

       9      eviction.

      10             An overwhelming number of those families live

      11      in deplorable housing conditions.

      12             The landlords that file the more than

      13      5,000 eviction cases every year in Albany City Court

      14      are predominantly not invested in the neighborhoods,

      15      and as it stands now, they will continue to pursue

      16      eviction every single time a tenant asserts their

      17      right to a decent place to live.

      18             I repeatedly watch landlords be granted

      19      warrants of eviction in housing court, only to see

      20      them walk down the stairs to appear or to pay a fine

      21      in codes court for failure to repair the same

      22      building from which they've evicted still another

      23      family.

      24             I believe that if a landlord is not making

      25      repairs, they should not be eligible to receive a


       1      warrant of eviction.

       2             In the four short years that I've been with

       3      United Tenants, I've attended court with so many

       4      households cycling through the exact same horrifying

       5      substandard apartment, that I can recite the issues

       6      that are going to be on their code-violation report

       7      upon simply hearing their address.

       8             It's the same issues for the family going

       9      through the same building.

      10             I'm confident that the problem intrinsic to

      11      this disturbing cycle cannot possibly lie with the

      12      families that are renting.

      13             More recently, in United Tenants' increased

      14      communication and collaborative efforts with our

      15      buildings department and our corporation counsel,

      16      have I been shocked by the overlap between the

      17      addresses on my caseload and property owners'

      18      material non-compliance with housing codes.

      19             For far too many rental-property addresses

      20      that I read on violation lists or in codes court

      21      calendars, a family's lived nightmare of a housing

      22      situation comes to mind for me.

      23             There is rain -- in people's bathrooms it's

      24      raining.

      25             Ceilings are falling down.


       1             There's lead paint, mold, rot, floors

       2      collapsing, boilers exploding, mice and rats and

       3      bedbugs every single day, CO2 leaks, no egress in

       4      people's apartments.

       5             I can tell you one of my client's stories,

       6      but I've decided, instead, that I'll just tell my

       7      own.

       8             I had insufficient heat in my apartment for

       9      two winters.

      10             When I say "insufficient," half of my

      11      apartment hovered around 40 degrees.

      12             I would get ready for work in the morning,

      13      walk down to court to help people dealing with the

      14      exact same issues that I was having, and my feet

      15      would ache so badly, and I wouldn't be able to

      16      really get warm until the morning was about done.

      17             I had cut a substantial part of my index

      18      finger off at a job and had it sewn back on in

      19      Tennessee where I'm from.

      20             I tell you this because the cold is pretty

      21      unbearable if you've had a laceration and sustained

      22      nerve damage.

      23             Being home in the winter was awful.

      24             I had squirrels living in my ceiling, digging

      25      holes into my dropped-ceiling panel.


       1             I had a toilet that was like an ancient

       2      artifact, and the water would well up in it while

       3      I was at work or while I was asleep, and, you know,

       4      fill my bathroom floor, flood it.

       5             I talked to my landlord about it, and he'd

       6      stop by.

       7             He'd agree that it was mighty cold.  He would

       8      jump at the amount of ceiling debris coming down.

       9             He was obviously disturbed by the amount of

      10      damage sustained by my bathroom floor, and he would

      11      agree that it needed to be addressed.

      12             I'll just say that nothing was ever done

      13      about this until he sold the building.

      14             And in the roulette that a building sale is

      15      for a tenant, the buyer that came in, and he fixed

      16      it all.  He still hasn't raised the rent.

      17             God bless him.

      18             But let me tell you what would have happened

      19      had I called code enforcement, and what, by the law,

      20      and the system as it stands now, you know, how it

      21      really would have gone.

      22             Code enforcement would have issued an

      23      unsafe/unfit order due to the lack of heat,

      24      rendering me displaced.

      25             At the moment now, the landlord is given


       1      30 days to address that issue.

       2             Maybe they'd give him an extension he'd

       3      probably be entitled to if he hadn't offended

       4      previously.

       5             If he had a residential occupancy permit, or

       6      "ROPs," like we've talked about, it wouldn't be

       7      revoked.  The law doesn't really allow for that

       8      right now.

       9             The time would go by, and if I hadn't cut my

      10      losses yet and followed up, they might inspect

      11      again.

      12             If nothing happened and no action was taken

      13      by the landlord, hopefully, the case would go to

      14      court, but a lot of them really don't.

      15             At no point do I have the right to take my

      16      landlord to court to enforce my rights under our

      17      contract, where he's to provide me a habitable home.

      18             But don't worry, he's lost none of his power

      19      to give me a 30-day notice.

      20             He'll file for holdover, and maybe I'll claim

      21      retaliation.

      22             I pay my rent early every month.

      23             He'll say anything at all to rebut that

      24      presumption, and I'll be homeless, or, I could go

      25      the route of holding back my rent.


       1             My landlord will then have the right to sue

       2      me for non-payment of that rent.

       3             And if I'm given maybe a 15 percent rent

       4      abatement, the amount of attorney's fees that he's

       5      going to be granted for having sued me are going to

       6      outweigh whatever abatement I might win.

       7             In the four years that I've been at

       8      United Tenants, not one of my clients has won a

       9      retaliatory-eviction case.

      10             I can't ask for a rent abatement in a

      11      holdover proceeding.  And if I ask for an injunction

      12      or an order for repairs by the court, I'll be

      13      completely ignored.

      14             That's the story of my hypothetical call to

      15      code enforcement had I gone that route.

      16             The code-enforcement process, as it exists

      17      now, is an underfunded, haphazard, systematically

      18      ineffective means for dealing with the exploitation

      19      by landlords of our decaying housing stock in our

      20      population that, in Albany, is 60 percent renters

      21      who face disproportionate levels of poverty.

      22             Where code-enforcement cases do move forward,

      23      the repeat-offender landlords in Albany clearly see

      24      this process as a negligible cost of doing business.

      25             United Tenants informs thousands of tenants


       1      every year about their right to access the

       2      code-enforcement system, which was put in place, in

       3      part, to protect us from the very serious impacts

       4      that code violations in housing can have on our

       5      physical and mental health.

       6             They find, again and again, that the system

       7      fails us.

       8             The system fails to deliver a true sense of

       9      accountability to the entity in violation as any

      10      effective enforcement process ought to do.

      11             Today, nearly 50 years have passed since

      12      United Tenants formed to respond to poor housing

      13      conditions in Albany.

      14             Our work has not decreased.

      15             As representatives of our communities, we

      16      hope you will do your part in implementing necessary

      17      measures to address issues with code enforcement.

      18             For us to achieve what I hope is a universal

      19      goal of ours, to have fair and stable neighborhoods,

      20      a person's right to a safe, decent place to call

      21      "home" must be held as more sacred than one's right

      22      to own and to profit off property.

      23             To own property in our neighborhoods ought to

      24      be seen as a privilege where exists a level of

      25      standards, not a source of exploitative and easy


       1      profit.

       2             We need a code-enforcement system that

       3      imposes real penalties, one that effectively

       4      discourages repeat offenses, and one that ultimately

       5      addresses the fruitful business model that is

       6      disinvestment rental-property ownership.

       7             Thank you.

       8             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Senator Kavanagh.

       9             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  I'll be brief again,

      10      because we have -- we're running a little behind

      11      schedule, and we have many witnesses, and, also,

      12      because I've had the opportunity here, this is two

      13      days in a row, I've heard -- had the opportunity to

      14      hear your testimony.

      15             But just, can you -- I mean, as -- as has

      16      been discussed, the purpose of this hearing is to

      17      review the system, from the moment there is a

      18      problem in the department, through adjudication and,

      19      you know, court determinations, and, hopefully,

      20      ultimately, through actually address -- you know,

      21      addressing the physical problem on the ground in the

      22      apartments.

      23             Just -- but you talk -- you talked

      24      particularly about the court process and the

      25      eviction process.


       1             Can you just -- are there -- from your

       2      experience in court, are there particular rem --

       3      judicial -- legislative remedies that we could --

       4      that you would suggest to strengthen the rights of

       5      tenants in the -- in the -- in those processes?

       6             LAURA FELTS:  Yeah, the tenants need to have

       7      the right to take action.  We shouldn't always have

       8      to be on the defensive side of things.

       9             The nature of the process now lends itself so

      10      that there's always a warrant of eviction on the

      11      table that is threatening a tenant who tries to

      12      assert their right to a decent place to live.

      13             In Upstate New York, the only power that you

      14      have is to either hold back your rent and try to

      15      defend yourself in a courtroom where there's

      16      standing room only, where the judges are just having

      17      to hear the cases, honestly, as quickly as they can.

      18      You really can't blame them at a certain point.

      19             But, if you're on the defensive side and the

      20      burden of proof is immensely on you to prove how

      21      your housing is falling down around you, you're just

      22      not going to have a good outcome.

      23             All we have right now is the capacity to

      24      maybe file a small claim to sue for out-of-pocket

      25      loss if we have code violations, and that's not


       1      meaningful.

       2             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  And in terms -- so we

       3      would -- you -- you would suggest we create a sort

       4      of separate right of action that does not hinge

       5      on -- that is not a sort of defensive action in

       6      response to a landlord either trying to evict or to

       7      claim -- to claim non-paid rent?

       8             LAURA FELTS:  I think that the way that it

       9      exists now, the landlord has the right to enforce

      10      their side of the contract through the courts.

      11             They can say, you failed to pay me, or you

      12      violated your contract, you're a nuisance, and I can

      13      sue you.

      14             But if I'm a tenant and my side of the

      15      contract gets violated by the landlord, there's

      16      nothing that can I do about it.  The court's not

      17      there for me.

      18             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Okay.

      19             I just want -- from prior testimony,

      20      I understand that you don't believe that this is a

      21      sufficient remedy, but do you believe that some of

      22      these phenomena that you're talking about today

      23      are -- would be a good basis for at least the

      24      beginning of moving forward with a just -- with a

      25      good-cause-eviction standard, which you know is a


       1      legislative process -- a legislative proposal we

       2      have before us?

       3             LAURA FELTS:  I think that, last night, Ellen

       4      from Legal Aid put it perfectly, that a rebuttal

       5      presumption is a -- it's a problem.

       6             It takes a lot of the muscle out of our

       7      protections, and it causes us, again, to be so

       8      unbelievably defensive, that we just have an uphill

       9      battle before us with every single case.

      10             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Thank you.

      11             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Senator Krueger.

      12             SENATOR KRUEGER:  No, I didn't have any

      13      questions.

      14             I wanted to thank Laura for testifying again.

      15             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Senator Biaggi.

      16             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Thank you.

      17             I think, actually, Senator Kavanagh touched

      18      on the bulk of my questions.

      19             And I just want to say that I'm sorry for

      20      what you have had to live through.

      21             This is a terrible scenario, and so many

      22      individuals are living through that too, which is

      23      why we're here today, and also why we take this

      24      incredibly seriously.

      25             One thing I want to touch on, you mentioned,


       1      and I don't remember the name of the specific

       2      technique, but you said that, when, oftentimes, you

       3      go to court and the judge will not issue certain

       4      orders in favor of tenants.

       5             What were those orders again?

       6             LAURA FELTS:  Something that happened when

       7      they passed that Unified City Court Act, it gave the

       8      court the power to issue injunctive relief.

       9             So a tenant could actually ask City Court to

      10      order that a repair be made.

      11             So that's something that United Tenants has

      12      tried and tried to really make a regular part of the

      13      court process, where, again, tenants can enforce

      14      their rights under their same contract.

      15             But we're just not seeing it happen no matter

      16      how much we ask.

      17             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Is it because they refused?

      18             Is there discretion with this specific

      19      technique?

      20             LAURA FELTS:  I'm not an attorney, so I don't

      21      really understand why it's not happening.

      22             I can just tell you that it's really not.

      23             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Okay, that's very helpful.

      24             And just, lastly, has the warrant (sic) of

      25      habitability been used in court as a -- something


       1      against the landlords as a breach of this specific

       2      tenet of the law?

       3             LAURA FELTS:  Yes, we talk about it every

       4      single day in court.

       5             We've -- we've been working on a project to

       6      demystify the process of raising the

       7      warranty-of-habitability issues, but the problem is

       8      that, intrinsic to raising that, is that it's a

       9      defense.

      10             So where your landlord has brought the case

      11      against you, and you've had to sign a contract that

      12      agreed to pay their attorney's fees, you are going

      13      to pay more in their legal fees than you're ever

      14      going to get in a rent abatement.

      15             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  So you're saying that it's

      16      a defense that the tenant can use against the

      17      landlord, in this specific instance, and so,

      18      therefore, the burden of proof, obviously, is on the

      19      tenant to prove that there's -- that there's a

      20      breach, which is what we've kind of gone through.

      21             Okay, that's terrible.

      22             Thank you very much.

      23             LAURA FELTS:  Yeah, thank you.

      24             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thanks very much for your

      25      testimony.


       1             Next up will be Gordon Wren, retired

       2      firefighter, and representing the Citizens United to

       3      Protect Our Neighborhoods, otherwise known as

       4      "CUPON," from Rockland County.

       5             Thank you.

       6             GORDON WREN:  And thank you, Senators Skoufis

       7      and Kavanagh, for conducting these investigations

       8      and holding this hearing.  They are desperately

       9      needed.

      10             This area of government is deadly serious.

      11             And, having been a firefighter in

      12      Rockland County for 53 years, and a former chief,

      13      and fire coordinator, and director of emergency

      14      services, I've responded to tens of thousands of

      15      calls, and I've seen the dead bodies.

      16             It's -- so it's not impossible, you know,

      17      something that might take place, a remote scenario.

      18             I've seen people die in legal buildings where

      19      everything met code.

      20             And the conditions that we have people living

      21      in in Rockland County are deplorable in many cases.

      22             So, as you started your comments by saying

      23      that county executives from around the state are

      24      asking you for a -- to be investigated, we reached

      25      out to the State of New York several times over many


       1      years, and we weren't getting the cooperation we

       2      expected.  So we reached out to some of our state

       3      representatives, particularly Assemblyman Zebrowski.

       4             And I'm not sure if it's a good thing that

       5      I'm following him, because I agree with every single

       6      comment he made in his testimony, and the way he

       7      answered the questions.

       8             He has been responsive, as have our other

       9      representatives.

      10             But, despite our efforts, the conditions

      11      still exist, they're expanding to other

      12      municipalities, and it's become a major issue in our

      13      county.

      14             So, somewhere in the '90s I started to get

      15      approached by the Ramapo fire chiefs who were very

      16      dissatisfied with the fact that they felt they were

      17      being ignored.

      18             And they're -- when you get -- when you have

      19      a major emergency, it's common to reach out to other

      20      agencies, you know, Hazmat, DEC, et cetera, and it's

      21      very routine to call for a building inspector or a

      22      fire inspector.  Then you expect it to be taken care

      23      of.

      24             And then we go back for additional calls and

      25      find the same condition exists in months or years


       1      later.

       2             At one point I suggested that they get

       3      together and they all write a letter.

       4             So there are eight fire departments in the

       5      town of Ramapo, all eight chiefs signed the letter,

       6      sent it to the Town.  Got zero response back.

       7             Waited a while, sent a second letter.

       8             Didn't get a response back.

       9             They did it a third time.

      10             Then we decided to discuss it on the radio,

      11      and they did get some responses back, but, still,

      12      they have not been responsive to the needs of the

      13      volunteer firefighters and the fire departments that

      14      supply fire protection to the town and its villages.

      15             So we took a different approach.

      16             We formed the Illegal Housing Task Force, and

      17      the premise was to investigate each town, not just

      18      Ramapo and its villages, every town and village in

      19      Rockland County.

      20             So here's how we did it:

      21             We reached out to the media, and we asked

      22      people, like, you know, terrorism, "see something,

      23      say something," if you see something in your

      24      neighborhood or you're aware of a building that may

      25      be occupied illegally or is being converted


       1      illegally, call this number, we'll keep the

       2      information confidential.

       3             And the results were rather telling.

       4             In some communities, everything went well.

       5             The inspectors were well trained.  They were

       6      dedicated, they responded appropriately, and they

       7      took action.

       8             When it went to court, the Village or Town

       9      attorney, the municipal attorney, functioning as a

      10      prosecutor, they were aggressive.  They showed

      11      compassion when it was needed, when it was an

      12      innocent mistake.

      13             But, for some landlords, they really hit them

      14      hard.

      15             And for contractors that work illegally,

      16      using unlicensed contractors, and things of that

      17      nature, they'd come down really hard on them.

      18             In the Haverstraw area we had a Village

      19      attorney who asked for a $10,000 fine for a slum

      20      landlord.

      21             The judge said, No.  You've been here before,

      22      20,000.

      23             That's a deterrent.

      24             In the town of Ramapo and five of its

      25      villages, that deterrent does not exist, and this


       1      has been going on for years.

       2             And I don't want to be redundant.

       3             Assemblyman Zebrowski talked about 250- to

       4      500-dollar civil compromises.

       5             They don't work, they're not effective,

       6      especially with property that generates revenue.

       7             We have court observers.  They're volunteers,

       8      they're part of the Illegal Housing Task Force, that

       9      attend the court hearings.

      10             And they've been going to Ramapos for

      11      10 years now, and we have not seen any improvement.

      12      It's gotten worse.

      13             Recently, we had a dormitory, your chief

      14      investigator was at the first hearing, the

      15      Monsey Fire Department responded to a call.  They

      16      found four rooms occupied by six students in each

      17      room in overcrowded conditions.  Numerous violations

      18      were issued by the inspector.

      19             And, they were in court last week, and it was

      20      disposed of with a -- an adjournment in

      21      contemplation of dismissal; no fine, no penalty, an

      22      agreement that they'd let the inspectors come back

      23      in six months.

      24             That's not a deterrent, and it encourages

      25      other people to do it.


       1             Now, if the fire department hadn't gone

       2      there, there would be no knowledge that this

       3      building is being utilized in a hazardous fashion.

       4             And, suppose we had a fire in there.  The

       5      fire department would have no knowledge that you

       6      have 24 young men living in a cellar.

       7             So -- and it didn't have all the safety

       8      things it required.

       9             So, that's just an example.  I'm using it

      10      because it's recent.

      11             It's not unusual, it's unique.  It's what's

      12      happening in the town, and happening right now.

      13             And your senior investigator was in the

      14      court -- in the original court hearing.

      15             So, when we found that the -- we watched how

      16      cases lingered and there were no major fines,

      17      I didn't see any trials, we reached out to the

      18      State of New York, several agencies.  And those

      19      would include New York State Codes, New York State

      20      Ed, DOT, PESH, secretary of state.

      21             Met with Deputy Secretary of State

      22      Mark Patterson.  Very little cooperation, or at

      23      least results.

      24             Initially, State codes asked us for a list of

      25      buildings we felt that were not where the state fire


       1      and building codes were not being enforced.

       2             So we gave them a list.

       3             They came down, they did field trips with us.

       4             So the commissioner, the deputy commissioner,

       5      an architect, an engineer, from State codes came

       6      down, spent a lot time, met with the Town.

       7             At one point they even laughed.  You know, we

       8      gave them schools.

       9             They said, You're just seeing the bad schools

      10      that the Illegal Housing Task Force gave you.  We're

      11      going to take you out to some of the good schools.

      12             And they called me and said, they were full

      13      of violations.  These were the ones they were

      14      bragging about.

      15             And that's how bad it is.

      16             So to make a long story short:

      17             They sent threatening letters.

      18             They conducted investigations.

      19             Eventually, they wrote reports.

      20             Eventually, they did assign the monitors.

      21             And, unfortunately, the monitors, the system

      22      did not work.

      23             There was no communication with us, or very

      24      little.

      25             They treated us like we were the enemy for


       1      having the audacity to actually complain about the

       2      system being dysfunctional.

       3             The monitor assigned to Spring Valley I've

       4      never met.  Never spoke to him.  I heard some good

       5      things about him.

       6             The monitor for Ramapo, I've known her for

       7      many years.  She's a knowledgeable architect, one of

       8      the most knowledgeable code officials, in the state.

       9             I like her, known her for years.

      10             I'm still puzzled by the response.

      11             You know, so, it was a dismal failure.

      12             Now, Assemblywoman Jaffee arranged for a

      13      meeting last October in Albany, where we went up and

      14      we met with the current commissioner of codes, and

      15      he listened to our concerns.

      16             This -- we went up with CUPON and the

      17      Illegal Housing Task Force members, and we explained

      18      to them, in quite a bit of detail, how the system is

      19      still not working, the violations are, you know,

      20      serious and numerous and egregious.

      21             And he said, Can you send us a list?

      22             And I have done this three different times

      23      with, you know, code officials.

      24             So when we got back, I said, Why don't we

      25      just send the same list we sent them five years ago,


       1      because most of those buildings, despite actually

       2      taking the commissioner there with his deputy and

       3      his staff, the violations still continued.

       4             News 4, the I-Team, did a series two weeks

       5      ago, and one of them showed a trailer with little

       6      kids in deplorable conditions.

       7             I took the commissioner there, showed him

       8      that, and we filed complaint after complaint.

       9             Five years later, it's still there, dangerous

      10      conditions.

      11             So, the response we got back from the State

      12      codes department was, we met with them in late

      13      October and December, and they decided that Ramapo

      14      meets the minimum requirements, and they pulled the

      15      monitor from the town of Ramapo.

      16             Makes no sense.

      17             Things are not better.

      18             There may be some progress, a little bit here

      19      and there.

      20             We don't see it in the courts.

      21             We don't see it out in the field where it

      22      really matters; that's where the rubber meets the

      23      road.

      24             We have thousands of people living in

      25      substandard housing and extremely dangerous


       1      conditions, and I'll give you a few of those

       2      examples.

       3             And, also, around this time, we formed a

       4      group called Citizens United to Protect Our

       5      Neighborhoods.

       6             We used legal action to sue the Town and the

       7      developers when they absolutely refused to follow

       8      proper guidelines, and they approved things that are

       9      detrimental to the general public and the community

      10      as a whole.  And they've been very successful.

      11             And, by the way, just -- here's an example of

      12      how things have been working with the State

      13      agencies.

      14             One of our first challenges was a school that

      15      was going to -- for 750 students, that was going to

      16      be built on a residential -- former residential lot.

      17             It was six stories in height, and there

      18      was -- because it's so tight for space, the

      19      playground was going to be on the roof of the

      20      six-story building.  And it was on a busy state

      21      highway at a busy intersection.

      22             So we hired a -- CUPON hired a consultant,

      23      who did a report, showed all kinds of improprieties.

      24             So then I got funding from the local fire

      25      department to take legal action against the Town and


       1      this developer.

       2             While we were preparing, I reached out to

       3      DOT, and I asked the engineer for that area, Did you

       4      approve a road opening for this school on this busy

       5      state highway at this intersection?

       6             He said, No, but I'm getting really

       7      tremendous pressure from my bosses in Poughkeepsie,

       8      who are getting pressure from their bosses in

       9      Albany.

      10             So he said, I'm going to have to approve

      11      this.  I've only been on the job a couple of years.

      12      You know, I'm worried about my (indicating).

      13             So I said, Would a letter from the fire chief

      14      help?

      15             He said yes.

      16             However, then I was approached by the

      17      developer, who -- a friend of mine I've known for

      18      many years, and he said, You're going to sue us,

      19      you'll probably win.  And even if you don't --

      20      you'll probably win.  But if you don't win, you'll

      21      tie us up for a couple of years or more, and we

      22      can't wait.

      23             So this project is still a vacant field right

      24      now, three years, four years later.

      25             So CUPON is very good -- is a great


       1      organization, but why should local residents in a

       2      high-taxed area have to take -- generate revenue

       3      with fundraisers to sue, take legal action, against

       4      our own government?

       5             It's just wrong.  Something is just sinister

       6      about it.  It's just wrong.

       7             So, despite our requests from the State and

       8      from the local municipalities, and we've utilized

       9      the media, television, newspapers, radio, social

      10      media, and, generally, that works with public

      11      officials, elected officials, when you put the

      12      spotlight on through the media, they scurry to make

      13      things better.

      14             Here, they doubled-down.

      15             It's absolute hubris.  They don't care.

      16             They really -- I got -- I think they do not

      17      care, or they would respond.

      18             Here's an example, and I'm sure some of the

      19      speakers that are going to follow me are going to

      20      say how great things are and how much improvement

      21      has been made.

      22             In -- April 26, 2013, I personally received a

      23      complaint about a house that had been formerly

      24      occupied by -- a one-family house.

      25             They torn it down and got approval to build


       1      two-families, one on each side with a fire wall.

       2             The original complaint, in 2013, was a

       3      two-family -- legal two-family house is now an

       4      apartment house.  Numerous cars in the commercial

       5      parking lot.

       6             So I filed the complaint with the Town

       7      through the Illegal Housing Task Force.

       8             Two years later, no response.  I heard

       9      nothing from the Town.

      10             Got another complaint, April of 2015.

      11             So I write to the Town.

      12             Got a second complaint:  All or part of the

      13      two buildings may be used as a rooming house.

      14             We have no record of response from the Town

      15      of Ramapo.

      16             No response.

      17             July of that year, July 2015, got another

      18      complaint, which we also sent to the Rockland County

      19      Health Department through the housing division.

      20             And then, coincidentally, the day after

      21      I filed, I was in my emergency services vehicle, and

      22      I heard the EMS and policeman dispatched for an

      23      injury in this building, coincidentally.

      24             So I went.  I didn't go inside, but I asked

      25      the police and the paramedics to tell me what they


       1      saw.

       2             And they saw rooming-house conditions.

       3      Locked doors.  Every bedroom door had a separate

       4      lock on it.  Said, all the things you would see.

       5      Seven satellite dishes on the roof.

       6             So I forwarded that information to the Town,

       7      and -- oh, by the way, I had 14 different

       8      requests -- I filed 14 different complaints or

       9      requests for updates during -- from 19 -- from 2013

      10      till 2019.

      11             And, eventually, one of the inspectors got

      12      back to me in 2016, September of 2016, saying, They

      13      haven't been able to get to it.  It's on the list.

      14             In December of 2016, I spoke to one of the

      15      inspectors who said they finally got in.

      16             This is December of '16.

      17             They issued a summons for local justice

      18      court, it is a rooming house.  And the owner is

      19      supposedly evicting the tenants.

      20             So that was three years after the original

      21      complaint.

      22             My problem is, the -- it didn't work.

      23             The building continued to be occupied

      24      illegally.

      25             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  If I may interrupt, I know


       1      that there are a lot of questions that people have

       2      of you, and we're a little behind.

       3             So if you can just wrap up your testimony,

       4      and then we can continue with questions.

       5             GORDON WREN:  To make a long story short,

       6      I believe they were fined, as Assemblyman Zebrowski

       7      described, 250 or 500 dollars.

       8             I went in the building in 2019, with the fire

       9      department, partially.  And, in one section we found

      10      five couples, with an assortment of children, all

      11      living in what used to be a one-family unit.

      12             More people living in the basement.

      13             On the other side there's an open door.

      14             There was a young woman living there with a

      15      child, renting a small room for $600 cash per month.

      16             And the rest of the building, I believe, was

      17      occupied and dangerous.

      18             And here it is, 2019, 6-plus years, and the

      19      building is still illegally occupied.

      20             And there are numerous other cases, where a

      21      school opens up in a house.

      22             The neighbors complain, that they had no idea

      23      it was a school.

      24             School buses start pulling in the first day

      25      of school.


       1             They file a complaint with the Town.

       2             The Town, a month later, issues them a

       3      temporary permit for one year, to bring in,

       4      trailers, used trailers, for classrooms.

       5             Here it is 2019.

       6             That school is still in operation, and it has

       7      spread, from the one-family house and the trailers,

       8      they bought additional houses, and they're using it

       9      for a school.  It's like a campus.

      10             Down the road, the group buys three homes in

      11      a row, several years ago.  Put gigantic tents in the

      12      backyard like you have for weddings, that they use.

      13             Nothing.  No enforcement by the Town.

      14             They're so confident nothing is going to

      15      happen to them, because there's no deterrent, they

      16      buy two properties across the street and occupy them

      17      illegally, without a safe plan, without approvals,

      18      without building permits.

      19             And I could go on and on.

      20             I think that -- let me cut things short:

      21             We have volunteers fighting with people in

      22      government.

      23             They're getting paid to do their jobs.

      24             They're not doing their jobs.  The State has

      25      been woefully inadequate.


       1             And one of the -- the outgoing commissioner

       2      from State codes said to me:

       3             "You've been a pain in our asses, but,

       4      I admire your tenacity.  I admire what you're doing.

       5      Keep doing it.

       6             "Our department is charged with protecting

       7      the safety of the residents of New York State, and

       8      we're being prevented from doing it."

       9             That is a powerful statement.

      10             "We're being prevented from doing our jobs"

      11      which -- involving safety.

      12             (Indiscernible) bureaucrat or political.

      13             I say to the Governor and secretary of state:

      14             Turn your employees loose.

      15             Let your commissioners and their -- your

      16      departments do their jobs.

      17             We need some new laws, but if you just

      18      enforce laws on the books, we wouldn't be having

      19      this hearing.

      20             It's really irresponsible on the highest

      21      levels of state government, and right down to the

      22      poor little person, the little kids with their

      23      parents who are desperate and they're living in

      24      these rooming houses and cellars and basements and

      25      attics and sheds and garages.


       1             And I had plenty more to cover, but I've made

       2      my points.

       3             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you very much.

       4             GORDON WREN:  And thank you for the hearing.

       5             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  And I can tell -- thank you

       6      very much for your assistance and cooperation over

       7      these past many months, as well as your testimony

       8      here.

       9             And I can tell you, one of the motivations of

      10      this investigation has been that, look, you know,

      11      you have men and women who put on a uniform every

      12      single day, they say goodbye to their family, and

      13      their families don't necessarily know that they're

      14      coming back home, by virtue of the dangers

      15      associated with their job.

      16             And to the extent that we as government can

      17      provide as safe a work environment, or a volunteer

      18      environment for volunteer firefighters, is possible,

      19      we ought to be doing that.

      20             And I know that, time after time, there have

      21      been examples of firefighters running into

      22      smoke-filled homes that, you know, are illegal

      23      homes, and they're bumping into walls that should

      24      not be there, and putting those firefighters' lives

      25      at risk.


       1             And so I appreciate your service as a

       2      firefighter for over 50 years, as well as your

       3      continued advocacy.

       4             You had -- at the end of your testimony you

       5      had quoted or paraphrased the former commissioner of

       6      codes, saying, that, We're prevented from doing our

       7      job.

       8             What do you think he meant by that; prevented

       9      by, who?

      10             GORDON WREN:  Well, I asked that.

      11             And the first time I heard it was in 2003

      12      when Roy Scott, who was the commissioner before him,

      13      said that, We're being prevented by the

      14      Second Floor.

      15             I didn't know what the "Second Floor" meant.

      16             And I found out it was the Governor's Office,

      17      apparently.

      18             That's how it's referred to in state

      19      government, "Second Floor."

      20             And this commissioner wasn't the only one who

      21      told me that.

      22             Other department heads have told me the same

      23      thing, that they are being prevented from doing

      24      their jobs.

      25             I have had commissioners apologize to me, and


       1      say, I -- I -- and we know you're right, but we're

       2      being prevented.

       3             The attorneys for the secretary of state's

       4      office have told us, We can't go into this

       5      community.  We can't do -- we can't take action.

       6             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Can you give me a synopsis,

       7      in your professional opinion, of the monitor's work?

       8             What did you see the monitor doing?

       9             Do you believe that she was well-intentioned,

      10      that her work was adequate?

      11             It certainly sounds like you believe that she

      12      was removed prematurely, but can you speak beyond

      13      that?

      14             GORDON WREN:  She's a friend; however, the

      15      only time she really spoke to me this whole time

      16      that she was there as a monitor was on the local

      17      radio station.

      18             I or someone else on the radio said, We

      19      believe she's drinking Ramapo's Kool-Aid.

      20             And she was very angry about that statement

      21      that was made on the radio.

      22             And I didn't tie it, and she had red

      23      lipstick, and I said, "It looks like you're drinking

      24      cherry today."

      25             So, that was my, pretty much, only


       1      interaction with her as a monitor.

       2             And I find that strange, since we're the ones

       3      out in the field seeing this and filing the

       4      complaints.

       5             And, by the way, I'm going to add, there was

       6      a group of women in the state education department,

       7      I call them "women of valor."

       8             There was one women who was in charge, and

       9      they came out in the field, found deplorable

      10      conditions in our private schools, really bad

      11      conditions.

      12             Took photographs, took them back, and they

      13      actually got in trouble for this.

      14             Our district attorney at the time had to go

      15      to bat for this woman to make sure she didn't get

      16      fired.

      17             And they have a codes expert, he's an

      18      architect.  He agreed, but wouldn't come forward.

      19             And we're still -- the State of New York is

      20      still subsidizing schools that have dangerous

      21      conditions in them.

      22             It's deplorable.

      23             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  So as you're aware, you

      24      know, you don't have to look very far back to see

      25      this issue in the news in Rockland County.


       1             In today's "Journal News," the story of two

       2      young girls nearly drowning, they had to be

       3      resuscitated, because they, I guess, fell into a

       4      pool, or somehow wound up in a pool, that did not

       5      have a locked gate.

       6             And, subsequently, there were violations

       7      issued for that item, and for a couple of others.

       8             Do you believe something like that could have

       9      been prevented; and if so, how?

      10             GORDON WREN:  When it comes to one-family

      11      homes, it's very -- you know, you have your right to

      12      privacy.

      13             One -- the codes are very, and the

      14      Constitution is very, mindful of right to privacy.

      15             So that's really tough.

      16             I can't -- I'm not going to say I'm going to

      17      defend the Town, but it's very hard to get into a

      18      one-family house.

      19             In this case, apparently, there is a history

      20      on this property.  And maybe a reinspection probably

      21      would have been in order.

      22             And I understand there may have been someone

      23      living, or had lived, in the cabana associated with

      24      the pool and the basement of the building.

      25             So that area of the town and the village of


       1      Spring Valley, it's very close together, it's

       2      rampant.

       3             When we have a fire in the building that's

       4      legal, we'll say, wow, look at this.  We had a -- we

       5      had -- have an incident in a legal, code-conforming

       6      building, because the -- almost every -- in some

       7      neighborhoods, almost every building is illegal;

       8      illegally converted, illegally occupied.

       9             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  My final question is, you

      10      know, if there's one or two things that you believe

      11      after today that we should be doing, legislatively

      12      or otherwise, what, in your professional opinion,

      13      would those one or two items be?

      14             GORDON WREN:  Well, I think we do need some

      15      additional legislation.

      16             But I think, what I said a few minutes ago,

      17      there is a -- I don't know if it's organized, but,

      18      the -- your departments are being -- and I can't

      19      tell you how many commissioners have told me this,

      20      over and over -- they're being told they can't do

      21      their jobs.

      22             Turn them loose.

      23             Let them use their good judgment and their

      24      training, and let them do what's right.

      25             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you.


       1             Senator Carlucci.

       2             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Thank you.

       3             Well, Mr. Wren, thank you for testifying here

       4      today, and thank you for your commitment to our

       5      community, and all the work that you've been doing

       6      over the years.

       7             I know it hasn't been easy, and thank you for

       8      your persistence.

       9             So a few things.

      10             I know there's a lot we can talk about today,

      11      but I'll try to keep it as brief as possible.

      12             We talk about the -- to just enforce the

      13      laws, but we also talk about this "minimum

      14      standard."

      15             And it seems very concerning to me, this

      16      bare-minimum standard, seems like a situation where

      17      I wouldn't want my family to be living in these

      18      minimum standards.

      19             Are there ways that you think we could

      20      improve that standard?

      21             GORDON WREN:  Yes.

      22             And I don't -- I think -- we're not meeting

      23      the bare-minimum standard in many cases.

      24             That's what -- we wouldn't be complaining as

      25      much or as vehemently if we were meeting the minimum


       1      standards.

       2             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  No, but, however, in the

       3      monitor's report in -- the end of last year, they're

       4      saying that they met the minimum standard.

       5             Are you saying that is not true?

       6             GORDON WREN:  It is not true.

       7             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.

       8             GORDON WREN:  They're not meeting minimum

       9      standard.

      10             I mean, if that's a minimum standard, we need

      11      to raise the bar significantly.

      12             I mean, that's absolutely -- and --

      13      (indiscernible) more of the State codes division.

      14             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  So there's two things I'm

      15      just trying figure out.

      16             So, it's possible that they're meeting the

      17      minimum standard, but we're saying that that minimum

      18      standard needs to be increased?

      19             Or, are you saying, you think that they just

      20      did not meet the standard?

      21             GORDON WREN:  I think they are meeting it in

      22      certain areas.

      23             A lot of buildings meet code, but their

      24      enforcement is so poor because there's no deterrent.

      25             You need to have a hammer.


       1             You know, you need to show compassion when

       2      it's called for.

       3             But, for slum landlords who put people in

       4      danger, and contractors who do illegal things, and

       5      then people who use political influence to get

       6      things done, that's the root of the problem.

       7             You know, politics and safety -- public

       8      safety don't go together, and that's, like, my

       9      opinion what's happening here.

      10             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Now, there have been a few

      11      innovative programs that you've been involved in

      12      with the apartment registry we now have in

      13      Rockland County, and the Rockland Code Initiative.

      14             GORDON WREN:  That's the success

      15      (indiscernible cross-talking) --

      16             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  And if you could talk

      17      about that, yeah.

      18             GORDON WREN:  I think you're going to hear

      19      from the folks that run that program, and it's a

      20      success.

      21             Our county executive expanded on the housing

      22      program that the health department does.

      23             And, now, they don't -- some of the -- the

      24      sanitary code over -- you know, overlaps some of the

      25      State code requirements, but, they're dealing with


       1      health-related issues.

       2             So, the example I gave a little while ago

       3      about the -- over six years, the health department

       4      went in and they found they had smoke detectors and

       5      CO detectors and access, you know, for getting out.

       6             So they could -- and they can't do anything

       7      about the building being occupied without a C of O.

       8             So, I think it's a success, but we have so

       9      much more to do.

      10             It's a success, but this is one successful

      11      part.

      12             And then the slum landlords find a way to get

      13      around it.  They form condominiums.

      14             So instead of rental units, they're forming

      15      condominiums where the rental-registry law

      16      wouldn't apply.  So they're calling everything

      17      "a condominium."

      18             So it's like a chess game.

      19             Check.  Check.

      20             We need to find -- get some checkmates.

      21             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  When we talk about the

      22      monitor, I know, when we first were -- we were able

      23      to get the monitor down, we were excited about it.

      24             Now the monitor left.  They made their notice

      25      that they were leaving before they issued the


       1      report.

       2             What would be some of the concrete things

       3      that you would ask for to get the monitor to return,

       4      and then what would be in place?

       5             What are the concrete steps that you think

       6      need to be taken so that, most importantly, I think

       7      that we reverse the culture and that we feel safe in

       8      the community.

       9             What are some of the recommendations that you

      10      have, from your experience?

      11             GORDON WREN:  Well, we keep coming back to

      12      deterrent.

      13             If we had an adequate deterrent, it would

      14      give -- because this is all about money.

      15             The word is out, in my opinion, that you can

      16      occupy a building without going to the Town and

      17      getting the proper approvals.

      18             In fact, I had an individual brag to me --

      19             I was with the health department.  They

      20      thought it was with the health department too.

      21             -- and they said, If we went through the

      22      proper process, hiring an engineer for site plan,

      23      and plans, it would cost us hundreds of thousands of

      24      dollars.  We just moved in, formed a dormitory,

      25      brought in 10 trailers, started a school.  Our


       1      revenue, you know, is coming in.  And then, when we

       2      get caught, if we get caught, you get fined a few

       3      hundred dollars.

       4             It's a good business decision for them to do.

       5             We need to change that culture, that, beg for

       6      forgiveness after the fact and get hit with not even

       7      a slap on the wrist.

       8             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  In terms of

       9      recommendations on the structure of how the monitor

      10      actually functions with the Illegal Task Force, with

      11      the community, with elected officials, do you have

      12      recommendations for that?

      13             GORDON WREN:  Well, we should be allies, not

      14      enemies, and we should not be treated like we are

      15      the opposition.

      16             We should be part of the solution.

      17             And there has been no -- very little

      18      communication between stakeholders, let alone the

      19      monitors.

      20             The monitors are told, we're not -- they're

      21      not allowed to even talk to us, really.  They're not

      22      supposed to interact with us.

      23             So they're supposed to be there to monitor.

      24             But the example that Assemblyman Zebrowski

      25      gave about that fire hydrant, that was a sham.


       1             They used -- they ran some firehose across

       2      the road into a plastic, makeshift, fake hydrant.

       3             When we turned the water on to it, it blew

       4      out of ground.

       5             And that was just part of the problem there.

       6             That was absolutely disgraceful.

       7             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.  Thank you.

       8             Thank you, Chairman.

       9             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Senator Krueger.

      10             SENATOR KRUEGER:  Thank you.

      11             So I'm from New York City, and people think

      12      maybe I won't understand things that go on outside

      13      of the city.

      14             And so, just for the record, my husband's

      15      worked with the FDNY for 35 years, and so we talk a

      16      lot about fire and fire safety.

      17             And he points out to me that, even in the

      18      city of New York, when you look at the cause of

      19      fires in one-, two-, and three-family homes, which

      20      is much more the reality in this part of the state,

      21      faulty wiring over makeshift, overutilization of old

      22      wiring; space heaters when inadequate heating

      23      systems for the houses; and these translate in my

      24      city to huge fires.

      25             I'm assuming, for all the things you


       1      presented today, you'll verify for me now that these

       2      actually are causing fires that put, as

       3      Senator Skoufis pointed out, not only the

       4      firefighters and emergency responders at risk, these

       5      cause death and destruction for people who end up

       6      living in these homes.

       7             Am I wrong about this reality?

       8             GORDON WREN:  No, you're right on target.

       9             In fact, your husband has probably seen it

      10      all.

      11             One of the reasons why we formed the

      12      Illegal Housing Task Force is, the fire called

      13      "Black Sunday," where firefighters had to jump out

      14      of the five-story building because the building had

      15      been illegally converted, and they couldn't get to

      16      the fire escape or -- to be rescued.

      17             So we take it very seriously.

      18             And then one of the points I was going to

      19      make in my presentation, that when these buildings

      20      are converted illegally, they hire contractors who

      21      are not licensed contractors, frequently.  There's

      22      no sides on their trucks.  They don't put an

      23      announcement sign on the front of the building.

      24             And then they'll pick up people on a state

      25      road by the McDonald's to work for them, for 20 or


       1      25 dollars an hour, cash.

       2             And they didn't go through an apprenticeship.

       3             They're doing electrical work, which is

       4      covered by sheetrock.

       5             It's not inspected, we don't know if it meets

       6      code.

       7             And in most municipalities, when that work is

       8      discovered, which doesn't happen in Ramapo very

       9      much, they'd say:  Take everything out.  Everything

      10      you did without a permit, tear it all out.  All that

      11      electrical, plumbing, gas lines, insulation, take it

      12      all out, throw it into a dumpster.  And, either put

      13      it back to its original condition or get a permit.

      14             That's what should be done.

      15             That's what the Town of Clarkstown does.

      16             We even had a seminar to show how Clarkstown

      17      does it.

      18             Because that's a penalty that doesn't show on

      19      the record.

      20             They'll fine them tens of thousands of

      21      dollars.

      22             All that work that they did with the illegal

      23      contractor, and then to have to take it out, plus

      24      legal fees, it can be a very expensive mistake when

      25      you get caught in the town of Clarkstown.


       1             That's the message that Ramapo and five of

       2      its villages should be sending, but they're not.

       3             So, very good question, and that's how it's

       4      being done.

       5             We talked to some of these workers, and they

       6      don't even know where their yard is -- where the

       7      construction yard is for the contractor.

       8             They just get picked up, and the materials

       9      are on the job, and that's how it works.

      10             So, we've got some work to do with our office

      11      of consumer protection to go after them too.

      12             SENATOR KRUEGER:  Thank you.

      13             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Senator Biaggi.

      14             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Thank you.

      15             Thank you very much for your candid

      16      testimony.

      17             I think that you took a light and you shined

      18      it in a very dark area, and I think that that is

      19      incredibly appreciated by all of us here.

      20             I want to go back again to the comment that

      21      you made about -- from the former commissioner,

      22      which is that, quote, We are prevented from doing

      23      our jobs.

      24             Can you just again repeat how they were

      25      prevented from doing their jobs, or by whom were


       1      they prevented from doing their jobs?

       2             GORDON WREN:  The same statement pretty much

       3      apply.  They're all different.

       4             But, with State codes, state ed, PESH.

       5             The example I gave, the DOT, with that

       6      engineer, he said he knew it was inappropriate.

       7             This is a busy -- a bad intersection.

       8             The traffic would back up during rush hour

       9      every morning and every afternoon.

      10             And he felt it was improper to issue -- have

      11      a road opening on that state highway for buses and

      12      parents and, you know, faculty.

      13             So he didn't want to approve it.

      14             So his bosses in Poughkeepsie -- his bosses

      15      locally, and in Poughkeepsie, and in Albany, were

      16      pressuring him to approve this project.

      17             Why would they do that?

      18             Why would you go against an engineer, a PA?

      19             Why would he do something -- why should he be

      20      forced to do something?

      21             And he said, "Oh, I've only been on the job

      22      two years," sort of like, he's worried about keeping

      23      his job.

      24             And I had a commissioner almost -- I couldn't

      25      tell, I was on the phone, she sounded like she was


       1      crying.

       2             She said, "I am involved in the fire service,

       3      and I know this is wrong, but I need this job."

       4             SENATOR BIAGGI:  So -- so -- okay.

       5             So just drawing the link.

       6             So the -- you mentioned several State

       7      agencies, right, who were overseeing the process.

       8             And so they, presumably, were the ones

       9      preventing the commissioner from being able to

      10      enforce that commissioner's power, right, to the

      11      full extent of the law.

      12             Who do you think is responsible for that

      13      commissioner's power being granted?

      14             GORDON WREN:  Secretary of state and State

      15      codes and PESH and the governor of the state of

      16      New York.

      17             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Uh-huh.

      18             So --

      19             GORDON WREN:  The woman I described -- the

      20      women I described from state ed, they uncovered some

      21      really, really bad stuff.

      22             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Uh-huh.

      23             What -- what -- can you define "bad stuff"?

      24             GORDON WREN:  Bathrooms that had been put

      25      into a one-family house in the town of Ramapo, with,


       1      I mean, urinals, toilets, without permits, and they

       2      were leaking.  And they -- the products of the

       3      toilets and the urinals were leaking, and -- into a

       4      classroom.  And they tied plastic bags around the

       5      leak, which was full of liquid, and it was spilling

       6      onto children's decks.

       7             She took photographs of that, of those

       8      conditions, along with many, many, many other

       9      violations, hundreds of violations.  Gave them to

      10      her bosses.  And she was almost fired.

      11             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Well, presumably, that would

      12      not be a fireable offense, but -- and I'm kind of

      13      shocked by that.

      14             But, fired for what, do you think?

      15             GORDON WREN:  For doing -- it was more

      16      complicated.

      17             They were looking at the nutrition program,

      18      where they were getting, you know, 6 or 7 dollars

      19      per day, per child, for nutrition, for lunch, for

      20      food.

      21             And I was happened to be -- I was there --

      22      I was there with them when the food was delivered.

      23             And the food consisted of a 6-ounce bottle of

      24      water and spiral noodles, with, each kid got a ladle

      25      of diced carrots and peas in that salty brine.


       1             And that's they're lunch.

       2             That wasn't -- the six or seven, whatever

       3      amount was they were getting, that's not the kind of

       4      lunch you're -- they're paying for.

       5             Where's that money going?

       6             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Okay.  So --

       7             GORDON WREN:  Those are the type of things

       8      they were looking at.

       9             And they were told, basically, back off.

      10             And this -- it's just wrong.

      11             They were very brave to come forward and give

      12      a blunt report.

      13             And it was a lot more complicated, a lot more

      14      violations.

      15             SENATOR BIAGGI:  So just -- so just going

      16      back to the, I think, original undertone, and then

      17      I will just close this out:

      18             So, it's very clear, right, that a lack of

      19      code enforcement can lead to death, and deaths, and

      20      that people have died as a result of the failure to

      21      enforce the building codes.

      22             And that the State agencies are the ones who

      23      are overseeing the process in the municipalities?

      24             GORDON WREN:  If the cities, towns, and

      25      villages are unable or unwilling to do it, the State


       1      should have enough oversight in all these different

       2      areas to come in and force them to do their jobs.

       3             SENATOR BIAGGI:  And is it -- is it your

       4      opinion, just from your experience, that the State

       5      has been negligent in the oversight, or has refused

       6      to have oversight?

       7             GORDON WREN:  Yes.  Or partial.

       8             They'll do -- I think State codes initially

       9      did a good job.  They wrote great reports, but then

      10      nothing happened.

      11             And then Senator Zebrowski wrote a -- after a

      12      fire we had New Year's Day, I don't know what year

      13      it was, 2016, in one of the buildings we had

      14      complained about to the State, we had a, you know,

      15      dramatic fire.  It was close-quarters, the building

      16      was occupied.

      17             He wrote a really blasting letter to the

      18      State codes commissioner.  And then they -- I think,

      19      they took more action, but, it's still not enough.

      20             If the end result is the condition --

      21             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Right.

      22             So I think I'm just -- I'm just trying to

      23      draw a line here.

      24             So the State is given -- the State agencies

      25      have the power, of course, from the executive.


       1             And so the executive, perhaps, would you

       2      suggest that they look at their oversight of the

       3      agencies, and perhaps give them more power to

       4      oversee or fulfill their duties so that deaths are

       5      prevented?

       6             GORDON WREN:  Yes, I think they could use

       7      more power, in some instances.  But just let them

       8      use the power they do have now.

       9             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Right.

      10             So do you think that the lack of the ability

      11      for these agencies to use their power is the cause

      12      of deaths?

      13             GORDON WREN:  I'm trying -- that's a --

      14      that's a -- if I answer that question yes, I'd

      15      better come up with some examples.  I'd have to

      16      think about it.

      17             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Could you draw an inference,

      18      perhaps?

      19             GORDON WREN:  Yes.

      20             If not --

      21             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Thank you.

      22             GORDON WREN:  If not, it will.

      23             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Thank you.

      24             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you, Mr. Wren.

      25             GORDON WREN:  Thank you.


       1             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Next we'll hear from the

       2      Orange County Landlord Association.

       3             I believe we have Michael Acevedo; right?

       4             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  That's me.

       5             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  And, Rafael Rivera; is that

       6      right?

       7             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Correct.

       8             RAFAEL RIVERA:  Correct.

       9             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      10             If you can both please raise your right hand.

      11             Do you solemnly swear that you will tell the

      12      truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,

      13      so help you God?

      14             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  I do.

      15             RAFAEL RIVERA:  I do.

      16             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you.

      17             Please proceed.

      18             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Okay.

      19             My name is Michael Acevedo.

      20             I'm a landlord.  I've been a landlord for

      21      43-plus years.

      22             And I have some issues that I -- I think is

      23      total opposite of what you want to hear, to be

      24      honest with you, but at the end I will explain some

      25      things.


       1             I've seen fire-code department driving around

       2      in their big fire trucks to go to McDonald's to pick

       3      up lunch.

       4             I don't think that's necessary.

       5             Okay?

       6             I have seen the fire -- fire code has given

       7      landlords violations to have an electrical survey

       8      because there was a loose outlet or a blank plate

       9      missing on a panel, not a fire hazard.

      10             I think that's unnecessary, because it cost

      11      the landlord over $1200 to do that.

      12             I want to know, when inspectors go to inspect

      13      a property, why are they violating a landlord when

      14      it's tenant issues?

      15             They should be violating tenants.

      16             There was a new law put into place, that

      17      tenants are supposed to be held accountable.

      18             Why hasn't this law been used?

      19             I've asked the local government to set up an

      20      appointment with myself and code compliance so we

      21      can open channels for communication.

      22             It hasn't been done.

      23             I had to take it into my own hands and go

      24      straight to the fire department and talk to the

      25      chief myself.


       1             Why didn't they do it the right way, the

       2      right channels, the correct channels?

       3             Smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors,

       4      and fire extinguishers are installed by the

       5      landlord.

       6             All inspections are made.

       7             Tenants sign an affidavit stating they are

       8      there.

       9             Okay?

      10             I think that code compliance is using

      11      selective enforcement on landlords, certain

      12      landlords.

      13             They think you're making too much money so

      14      they go after you.

      15             Not necessary.  I think it's uncalled for.

      16             I'd also like to mention that I think what

      17      you're here -- what you're saying is correct:  If

      18      you have a bad landlord and he's not doing things

      19      properly, you should go after him.  He should pay

      20      for what he's doing if it's wrong.

      21             But I don't think it's all issues tenant.

      22             How many people here have rented an apartment

      23      in their lifetime?

      24             Could you raise your hands? (looking at

      25      audience.)


       1             Did you go in and not see the apartment

       2      before you rented it?

       3             Or did you just lay down money and rent it

       4      and walk in, after you paid for it, go into it?

       5             I don't believe so.

       6             That's all I have to say.

       7             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Would you like to add

       8      anything?

       9             RAFAEL RIVERA:  I just want to add my

      10      personal experiences dealing with the various codes

      11      of New York City -- I mean, of city of Newburgh.

      12             So, once again, my name is Rafael Rivera, a

      13      property owner within the city of Newburgh.

      14             Thank you, Senator Skoufis, for this

      15      opportunity.

      16             I really, really appreciate that we can talk

      17      and you can hear our experiences and grievances, and

      18      so forth.

      19             My intent today in the hearing is to bring

      20      attention to the actual experiences and challenges

      21      that I have personally gone through in dealing with

      22      various ambiguous interpretation of the building

      23      codes and the personal enforcement interpretation of

      24      those codes; however, not all interaction is

      25      directly negative in nature.


       1             Some of the men and women who serve the

       2      building department in this great city have

       3      performed in the best interests of the building

       4      department, city council, and the citizens of

       5      Newburgh; therefore, this is not an entire

       6      reflection of the building department.

       7             On May 1st of 2017 I was cited with two

       8      building violations.

       9             The first, was not having the building

      10      labeled with a property number.

      11             Within 48 hours I cured that issue.

      12             The second building -- the second building

      13      violation from the code-compliance officer stated

      14      that I required a bond, a vacancy bond, for my

      15      building.

      16             However, I was under construction with two

      17      permits existing on this property.

      18             I informed the code inspector of this, and

      19      requested that, please go to your computer network

      20      to verify that that is the case, and I'm, literally,

      21      in compliance of the law.

      22             His response, in turn, he continued on

      23      informing me that I still will require a vacancy

      24      bond regardless that there are existing permits.

      25             However, he stated, that all that was


       1      required for this particular situation was a $2,000

       2      bond, not a $10,000 bond.

       3             I asked, what would be required as far as the

       4      verbiage related to this $2,000 bond?

       5             He directed me to go to the office and pull

       6      out a generic form, and that generic form has no

       7      specifics as far as what would be required to be

       8      labeled and acceptable by the City of Newburgh.

       9             I then went to my insurance broker, and she

      10      requested, yeah, I'm going to need that information,

      11      for sure.

      12             I went back to the inspector and informed him

      13      of the situation, and I said, I need your guidance

      14      and direction as far as how will this bond be

      15      labeled, other than, obviously, "additionally

      16      insured"?

      17             He began to become belligerent and vocal.

      18             I let him say what he said, I hung up the

      19      phone.

      20             The following day I brought a $2,000 bond,

      21      labeling the City of Newburgh as "additionally

      22      insured."

      23             He immediately stated to me, "Why did you do

      24      that when the bond is supposed to be 10,000?"

      25             I said, "We spoke yesterday.  You told me a


       1      2,000 bond is only required because of the existing

       2      permits."

       3             He then stated, "You obviously got it

       4      completely incorrect."

       5             Shortly thereafter I said, "I will return

       6      with a $10,000 certificate of a bond."

       7             As I walked out the building, and I got to my

       8      car, he approached me and stated, "Oh, that bond

       9      must be in a check form."

      10             Immediately I was getting heated, because it

      11      was obvious that there was three different

      12      interpretations, three different directions, of what

      13      was required.

      14             We returned back into the office, and there

      15      was a secretary there, or I believe she was a

      16      secretary, who came in and started getting involved

      17      in the conversation.

      18             She immediately stated to me that, yes, a

      19      check of a bond is required, not the certificate,

      20      and that's what is -- and that's what you have to

      21      do.

      22             I have to say that a heated discussion took

      23      place shortly thereafter.

      24             Then, right after that, Assistant

      25      Chief Horton came out and requested everyone to


       1      lower their voices, and also stated, "You need to

       2      come back with a bond."

       3             He claimed that I had no existing permits

       4      whatsoever.

       5             I said, "I will."

       6             I then brought that issue to the attention of

       7      the city manager.

       8             Unfortunately, he wasn't in his office, so

       9      I spoke to his assistant.  I told her what

      10      transpired.

      11             I said, I really see what this is going to --

      12      how this is, unfortunately, going to play out.

      13             And -- and, sure enough, I was -- I received

      14      the -- I received orders to report to court, because

      15      I'm going -- I was being charged for not complying

      16      with the bond, when I was trying to figure out, what

      17      is the bond? what is the verbiage? what is the

      18      amount?

      19             Everything is contradicting to one to

      20      another, and I need clarity.

      21             Give me orders.

      22             I followed my orders.

      23             I never got them.

      24             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  (Inaudible.)

      25             RAFAEL RIVERA:  Sure.


       1             I'll make it brief.

       2             Shortly thereafter it was dismissed.

       3             I was directed by the ADA to submit a bond.

       4             Shortly thereafter I submitted a bond.

       5             But as I brought the bond in, the building

       6      inspector said, "Why do you have a bond when you

       7      have an open permit existing already?"

       8             And I said -- I took a minute and a half to

       9      calm down, and I explained the situation to the

      10      inspector.

      11             And the inspector says, "I understand, but,

      12      unfortunately, that's not the way it should have

      13      been handled."

      14             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you.

      15             Thanks, for your testimony.

      16             And, hopefully, you've come to understand, by

      17      virtue of, you know, this invitation, that we are

      18      trying to be objective here in this committee.

      19             You know, I understand that Mr. Acevedo said,

      20      you know, that the testimony would not be what we

      21      want to hear, but make no mistake, we're not

      22      predisposed to wanting or not wanting to hear any

      23      information.

      24             And I appreciate your testimony.

      25             Would you both agree that it's -- the City of


       1      Newburgh's, or any municipality's, obligation to

       2      make sure that the housing in that municipality is

       3      safe?

       4             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Yes.

       5             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

       6             And the primary enforcement mechanism is code

       7      enforcement to do that.

       8             Would you agree with that?

       9             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  I do.

      10             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      11             And, so, how many -- now, how many buildings

      12      do each of you own in the city of Newburgh?

      13             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  One too many.

      14             RAFAEL RIVERA:  I only own one, and I won't

      15      go any further.

      16             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  I'm not looking for you to

      17      go any further than that.

      18             Mr. Acevedo, does 10 properties sound right?

      19             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  There's more.

      20             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  There's more.

      21             Okay.

      22             LLCs own the properties?

      23             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  No.  My children own

      24      properties as well.  They're in their names.

      25             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay, but, do you have any


       1      LLCs, either of you, owning properties?

       2             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  No, I don't.

       3             RAFAEL RIVERA:  (Shakes head.)

       4             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  No.

       5             Okay.

       6             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Not here.

       7             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  How many -- can you give me

       8      a sense of how many violations, ballpark, you've

       9      accumulated on the properties?

      10             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  The only violation that

      11      I had in the past was for the rental agreement.

      12             I refused to do it because, we took the City

      13      to court, the Orange County Landlords Association,

      14      and the inspections were supposed to be every

      15      two years, as agreed upon in court.

      16             And as soon as we went to do it, they changed

      17      the statements and said they were every year.

      18             So I refused to do it, to rebel against it.

      19             And when I went to court, I explained to the

      20      judge.

      21             And he asked me to do the inspections, which

      22      I did, and I have all the inspections on all my

      23      properties.

      24             But I'm still unclear if they're every year,

      25      every two years, because I keep getting different


       1      stories.

       2             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  So that was one violation?

       3             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  That was the one volition,

       4      other than the fact that I had grass that was a

       5      little high.  That was it, grass.

       6             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  So you've had two

       7      violations on your properties over the past number

       8      of years; is that right?

       9             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  You know, it's hard to say.

      10             I mean, I don't recall having many

      11      violations, going to court for violations.

      12             I think I spoke with Jeremy once or twice

      13      through -- in the past three or four years, for

      14      housing violations.

      15             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      16             Mr. Rivera?

      17             You said you have one property in the city of

      18      Newburgh.

      19             Can you give us a sense of how many

      20      violations that property has had in the last number

      21      of years?

      22             RAFAEL RIVERA:  I would say every two years,

      23      maybe minor stuff.  Like, I've gotten about grass.

      24      So you cut the grass.

      25             I've gotten where people have sprayed


       1      graffiti on the exterior wall, and removed that.

       2             So (indiscernible).

       3             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

       4             So between the two of you, a few violations,

       5      is your understanding?  Yeah?

       6             Okay.

       7             That's not the information that we have.

       8             And I know one of my colleagues is going to

       9      discuss that aspect of all this further.

      10             So how many times have you appeared in

      11      housing court in the last, let's say, five years?

      12             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Couldn't tell you.

      13             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  You couldn't tell me, why?

      14             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  No, because I have "CRS."

      15      I can't remember [expletive bleeped out].

      16             Okay?

      17             I'm sorry, but that's the way it is.

      18             I am in court all the time for evictions for

      19      non-payment.

      20             I never gave out a 30-day notice in over

      21      40 years, to anybody, to evict them for any other

      22      reason than non-payment of rent.

      23             Okay?

      24             I have, all my apartments are full, for one

      25      reason, because I give nice housing to people.


       1             And I work with people.

       2             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  And, Mr. Acevedo, housing

       3      court?

       4             RAFAEL RIVERA:  I went recently for an

       5      eviction with a tenant.

       6             And the last time for -- I went to court for

       7      violations, I think was this one, 2017, related to

       8      it.

       9             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      10             Have you ever received complaints from any of

      11      your tenants about conditions; and, if so, what's

      12      generally your response when you do?

      13             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  "Take care of it right

      14      away."

      15             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Same?

      16             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  That's why I'm not in

      17      court.

      18             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      19             Thanks for your answers.

      20             Senator Myrie.

      21             SENATOR MYRIE:  Thank you for your testimony,

      22      and coming in today.

      23             I want to talk about the violations for a

      24      second, and I would remind both of you that you did

      25      take an oath before you testified.


       1             The information that we have suggests that,

       2      Mr. Acevedo, that, over the course of 13 years,

       3      between 2005 and 2018, that there were 247 code

       4      violations.

       5             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  That I appeared in court

       6      for?

       7             SENATOR MYRIE:  Irrespective --

       8             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  You don't have to appear in

       9      court.

      10             SENATOR MYRIE:  -- yeah, irrespective of

      11      whether or not you appeared in court, there were

      12      247 code violations on the properties that you own.

      13             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Not that I know of, I'm

      14      sorry.

      15             SENATOR MYRIE:  Okay.

      16             According to the information that I have,

      17      there were also 264 complaints lodged against the

      18      properties that you own.

      19             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Really?

      20             Surprise to me.

      21             SENATOR MYRIE:  Okay.

      22             So you dispute this information?

      23             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Yes, I do.

      24             SENATOR MYRIE:  So that is not correct?

      25             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  I don't believe it is, no.


       1             SENATOR MYRIE:  Is -- are these larger than

       2      the two complaints that you said you received,

       3      (indiscernible cross-talking) two violations?

       4             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Are those numbers much

       5      larger than the two that I have stated?

       6             Yes, that is quite a large -- that's a lot of

       7      complaints.

       8             SENATOR MYRIE:  Okay.

       9             So I'm going to accept the information that

      10      we have.

      11             And if we took the average, over the

      12      13 years, it would be nearly 20 complaints a year

      13      and 20 violations a year.

      14             Now, I went to law school because I'm not

      15      good at math, so those numbers may be a little off.

      16             But if you own a property in which people are

      17      complaining at that rate, and you are receiving

      18      violations at that rate, you would admit that that

      19      is a --

      20             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Absolutely --

      21             SENATOR MYRIE:  -- problem?

      22             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  -- I would admit to it,

      23      yes, that is a problem.

      24             SENATOR MYRIE:  That would be problematic?

      25             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Yes.


       1             SENATOR MYRIE:  Now, you mentioned in your

       2      testimony that the code enforcement is selective

       3      because there are certain property owners that are

       4      making too much money, and that the enforcement is a

       5      mechanism by which to take away money.

       6             So can you tell us --

       7             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  (Indiscernible

       8      cross-talking) --

       9             SENATOR MYRIE:  -- how much --

      10             Hold on, hold on, hold on.

      11             I want you to respond when I ask.

      12             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Yes.

      13             SENATOR MYRIE:  -- how much money have you

      14      paid in fines?

      15             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Maybe $200? $300? --

      16             SENATOR MYRIE:  200 --

      17             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  -- in fines --

      18             SENATOR MYRIE:  -- in fines?

      19             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  -- when I -- if I went to

      20      court.

      21             And that was because of the fines that I had

      22      for the -- in the past year, with not doing any

      23      inspections.  There's a $25 per house.

      24             SENATOR MYRIE:  So you have paid a total of

      25      $200 in fines?


       1             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  That's about it.

       2             SENATOR MYRIE:  Okay.

       3             So --

       4             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Because I haven't been to

       5      court, is what I'm telling you.

       6             SENATOR MYRIE:  Okay.

       7             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  That's why I haven't had

       8      the fines.

       9             SENATOR MYRIE:  Okay.

      10             So you would understand why I would be

      11      dubious of that number --

      12             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Absolutely.

      13             SENATOR MYRIE:  -- given our discrepancy --

      14             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Yes.

      15             SENATOR MYRIE:  -- in the violations and

      16      complaints.

      17             But let's accept that number, that you have

      18      only paid $200 in fines.

      19             How, then, is code enforcement used as a

      20      mechanism to take money away from property owners?

      21             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  I didn't say it was against

      22      me.

      23             I'm speaking about a council member stepping

      24      up and complaining about a landlord that they said

      25      was making much -- too much money, "and we got to


       1      stop this."

       2             That's what I'm talking about.

       3             I watch the council meetings.

       4             SENATOR MYRIE:  And what I'm trying to

       5      understand is, how imposing a fine would take away

       6      the money, or a landlord's ability to make money,

       7      when you, having violated the law 247 times, have

       8      only paid $200 in fines.

       9             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  I haven't violated the law

      10      237 times, or whatever numbers you said.

      11             I haven't gotten any violations like that.

      12             SENATOR MYRIE:  Okay.

      13             Thank you.

      14             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Senator Krueger.

      15             SENATOR KRUEGER:  Thank you.

      16             Mr. Acevedo, in your opening statement you

      17      said, "Has anyone been a renter?"

      18             And I was one of the people who raised their

      19      hands.

      20             And then you responded, Well, you know, you

      21      take a look at the apartment, and you decide whether

      22      or not to rent it.

      23             But isn't it true that, I'm not an

      24      electrician, I'm not a firefighter, I'm not a

      25      plumber.


       1             So --

       2             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  I have inspections.

       3             SENATOR KRUEGER:  So I rent an apartment, and

       4      then it starts to flood, and then I start to have

       5      mold in my walls.

       6             And I might not know that it was faulty

       7      electrical wiring, until I got there, tried to plug

       8      some things in and discover that a fire starts.

       9             So I'm confused that you think the definition

      10      of a "landlord-tenant relationship" is, I looked at

      11      the apartment and I signed a lease, so everything

      12      afterwards is my fault?

      13             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  It's not only that, ma'am.

      14             We have inspections.

      15             In order to rent to a social-service tenant,

      16      we have to have an inspection prior to them moving

      17      in, which is for a CO.

      18             And now we have the new inspections, which

      19      they do every year, or every two years, to inspect

      20      it, to make sure that everything is in order for the

      21      tenants to move in.

      22             SENATOR KRUEGER:  Hence your confusion over

      23      having so many violations against you, based on the

      24      numbers that were just provided by my colleague,

      25      since you assume, because there was some kind of


       1      social-service inspections, that you had met all

       2      your obligations --

       3             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  No.

       4             SENATOR KRUEGER:  -- as a landlord?

       5             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  No.

       6             SENATOR KRUEGER:  No.

       7             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  No.

       8             SENATOR KRUEGER:  Okay.

       9             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Because I don't have any

      10      floods.

      11             I mean, maybe somebody blocked up a toilet

      12      and it overflowed.

      13             We would go there right away and take care of

      14      the issue.

      15             SENATOR KRUEGER:  Okay.

      16             That's not a question, but you had made a

      17      statement that, as far as you can tell, your

      18      firefighters just ride around on their truck and go

      19      to McDonald's.

      20             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  I've seen that.

      21             SENATOR KRUEGER:  Well, actually, that's

      22      perfectly allowed --

      23             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Okay.  I didn't know that.

      24             SENATOR KRUEGER:  -- because firefighters

      25      need to go out and get something to eat sometimes.


       1             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  In their fire truck?

       2             SENATOR KRUEGER:  And they must be in their

       3      fire trucks because, if they have a radio call to

       4      get to a job --

       5             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Well, thank you for

       6      explaining that to me.

       7             SENATOR KRUEGER:  -- being in the fire truck

       8      ensures that they won't have any delay --

       9             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Okay.

      10             SENATOR KRUEGER:  -- in continuing their

      11      work.

      12             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Okay.

      13             SENATOR KRUEGER:  If they were all in private

      14      cars, and had to go back to the firehouse, then get

      15      in the truck, then go out, that would be the

      16      problem.  Not that they're using their firetruck --

      17             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Thank you.

      18             SENATOR KRUEGER:  -- to do things they need

      19      to do while on duty.

      20             How did you end up the president of the

      21      Orange County Landlord Association?

      22             Is that an association that votes?

      23             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  How did I end up?

      24             SENATOR KRUEGER:  Yes.

      25             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Yes, that we re-elected.


       1             SENATOR KRUEGER:  You get re-elected.

       2             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  There's close to

       3      170 members.

       4             I was the vice president for probably

       5      30 years.

       6             And when it came time for this president to

       7      step down, everybody was asking, who they wanted as

       8      the president, and they said me.

       9             SENATOR KRUEGER:  And are there bylaws of

      10      this association --

      11             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Yes, there are.

      12             SENATOR KRUEGER:  -- and job description?

      13             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Yes, there are.

      14             SENATOR KRUEGER:  So the committee could ask

      15      to get copies of those?

      16             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Sure.

      17             SENATOR KRUEGER:  Thank you very much.

      18             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Senator Biaggi.

      19             SENATOR BIAGGI:  (Shakes head.)

      20             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Senator Kavanagh.

      21             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Yeah, I don't want to

      22      prolong this because we do have many speakers.

      23             But, just, I'm trying to -- I'm perplexed

      24      here.

      25             So you began by saying that you don't think


       1      we want to hear what you have to say, which, of

       2      course, we wouldn't be here and asking you to

       3      testify if we didn't want to hear what you have to

       4      say.

       5             But, you know, just, clearly, a

       6      code-enforcement system that has selective

       7      enforcement, and where representatives of the agency

       8      is supposed to enforce don't know the rules and

       9      can't state them clearly, are problems.

      10             And they're probably problems of training,

      11      perhaps they're problems of other -- you know, that

      12      result from other aspects of the system, other

      13      deficiencies.

      14             But just -- I -- you're the president of

      15      the -- a county landlord association, and you are

      16      not willing to tell this committee how many

      17      properties you have an ownership interest in?

      18             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  I don't feel that there's a

      19      reason for that.

      20             I don't feel that you need to know how many

      21      properties I have.

      22             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  You stipulate you own some

      23      amount of property, but -- like, if we -- if we had

      24      a code-enforcement agency up here and we said, "How

      25      many inspectors do you have?" do you think it would


       1      be appropriate for them to say, We're not -- We

       2      don't see your need to know that?

       3             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  They are paid by taxpayers.

       4      Right?

       5             Nobody pays me for my information.

       6             I'm sorry, I just don't agree with it.

       7             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  So you're not -- in --

       8      what we're trying to understand is, how -- how to

       9      take your testimony here today, and what your

      10      experience is with being a landlord and being with

      11      code enforcement.

      12             And, an inability to share the most basic

      13      information about what -- about your experience as a

      14      landlord makes it hard for us to take the rest of --

      15      like, you know, the rest of your (indiscernible)

      16      sincerely.

      17             Do you own one property?

      18             Do you own any property?

      19             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  I said before

      20      (indiscernible cross-talking) --

      21             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  You own some amount of

      22      property?

      23             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  -- I have more than

      24      10 properties.

      25             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  More than ten.


       1             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Yes.

       2             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  How -- and -- and -- but

       3      you're not willing -- you're not willing to discuss

       4      how many properties you and your family have

       5      ownership interest in?

       6             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  No.

       7             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Okay.

       8             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Thank you.

       9             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  And the same for,

      10      Mr. Rivera, I know you're the spokesperson of this

      11      organization, and you own one, and exactly one,

      12      property; is that correct?

      13             RAFAEL RIVERA:  Yes.

      14             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  And you have no ownership

      15      interest in other -- in other residential real

      16      estate in the state of New York?

      17             RAFAEL RIVERA:  No.

      18             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Okay.

      19             And, again, you -- you know, we've discussed

      20      this at some length with Mr. Acevedo, but -- well,

      21      let me stick with Mr. Acevedo (indiscernible).

      22             You have never -- have you ever received a

      23      vacate order on any property that you own?

      24             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Yes, I have.

      25             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  You have?


       1             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Just this past Friday.

       2             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Okay, and what --

       3             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  A car hit my building.

       4             The inspectors went there, I went there.  It

       5      was 2:30 in the morning, 3:00 in the morning.

       6             They put a "condemned" and a "vacate" sign on

       7      the building.

       8             Okay?

       9             Fine.

      10             He was doing things that I thought were

      11      unnecessary.

      12             When I was standing outside, and so were the

      13      tenants, he was breaking down doors to their

      14      bedrooms, which I thought was unnecessary when

      15      there's somebody standing outside with a key.

      16             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  What were the conditions

      17      that caused that vacate -- that are the basis for

      18      that vacate order?

      19             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  A car hit the building in

      20      two locations, and crashed into a car parked in

      21      front of it.

      22             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  And what was the address

      23      of that location?

      24             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Excuse me, I'm sorry,

      25      I didn't get that?


       1             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  The address of that

       2      location?

       3             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  73 Carpenter Avenue.

       4             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Okay.

       5             Have you ever received a vacate order on any

       6      property in which you have an ownership interest?

       7             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  In the past?

       8             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Yes.

       9             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Sure.

      10             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Okay, can you give us

      11      another example of an instance where you have

      12      received a vacate order?

      13             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  86 Johnson Street.

      14             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  And what was the basis for

      15      a vacate order at 86 Johnson Street?

      16             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Tenants that lived there

      17      were animals.

      18             Okay?

      19             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Excuse me, are you

      20      characterizing --

      21             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Sorry to say --

      22             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  -- human beings as

      23      "animals" (indiscernible cross-talking)?

      24             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  -- I say that only because,

      25      when code compliance went in to make an inspection,


       1      they violated the tenant, and that was four or

       2      five years ago.

       3             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Can you discuss the

       4      condition -- the physical conditions of the

       5      property --

       6             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  It was just trashed.

       7             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  -- that caused

       8      (indiscernible cross-talking) --

       9             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  The whole house was

      10      trashed.

      11             They broke windows.

      12             There were holes in the walls.

      13             This there was garbage everywhere.

      14             It was just trash.

      15             So they ordered -- they gave an order to

      16      vacate.

      17             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Can you give -- can you

      18      give an additional example of an -- instances or

      19      property, that you are the owner -- that you have an

      20      ownership interest in, has received a vacate order?

      21             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  I can't remember if I've

      22      had any others, I'm sorry.

      23             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Okay, you don't recall if

      24      you've had more than two vacate orders in your

      25      career as a landlord?


       1             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  I'm sure that I have.

       2             It's a long career, it's 43 years.

       3             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Okay.

       4             And you don't recall the circumstances of any

       5      other vacate order that you've received?

       6             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  I don't remember, I'm

       7      sorry.

       8             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  I mean, would you

       9      acknowledge that a vacate order is a pretty

      10      significant thing to occur on a piece of residential

      11      property, and that it requires people who are living

      12      in the property to leave the premises promptly

      13      and -- and -- and, you know --

      14             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Of course.

      15             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  -- find other shelter?

      16             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Of course.

      17             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Okay.  So it's just --

      18      again, it's for -- I -- there's a -- you know, a

      19      clever line about "CRS syndrome."

      20             But, you know, we are here to ascertain the

      21      facts, and what's going on, and we are seeking the

      22      perspective of landlords, as we do in all of our

      23      deliberations.

      24             You know, it's very difficult to do that when

      25      the association of landlords for an entire county of


       1      our state declines to give us, you know, forthright

       2      testimony, or, you know, sends us representatives

       3      who assert that they can't remember the most basic

       4      facts about their own experience as landlords.

       5             But thank you for, you know, being here

       6      today.

       7             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Senator Biaggi.

       8             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Thank you.

       9             I just have a few questions, and then I think

      10      we are on our end point of our inquiry.

      11             I believe that housing is a human right, it's

      12      a basic human right, and that the ability to do

      13      business in any capacity is really a privilege.

      14             So, I just have a few questions about the way

      15      in which you operate your properties.

      16             So, do you have to file any paperwork or

      17      obtain any licenses to operate your properties with

      18      the municipalities?

      19             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  The registry.

      20             SENATOR BIAGGI:  The registry, can you

      21      explain that a little bit?

      22             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Well, it's -- to me it's an

      23      additional tax, but, it's so they have a list of who

      24      owns what properties.

      25             SENATOR BIAGGI:  That -- who is "they"?


       1             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  The code compliance, the

       2      city hall, whoever you want to call it.

       3             I don't know who has them.

       4             Okay, we have to fill out a paper.

       5             We have to pay their fees.

       6             They come and make an inspection.

       7             They give you the right to rent the

       8      apartment.

       9             It gives you a clear inspection.

      10             SENATOR BIAGGI:  So the municipality gives

      11      you the right --

      12             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Yes, ma'am.

      13             SENATOR BIAGGI:  -- to rent?

      14             Okay.

      15             So do you operate any affordable-housing

      16      units?

      17             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Affordable-housing units?

      18             I think all our apartments are affordable,

      19      yes.

      20             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Hmm.

      21             Okay.

      22             Do you receive any benefit from the

      23      municipality or from the State as a result?

      24             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  No, I don't.

      25             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Okay.


       1             But you do agree that you obtain a license,

       2      so to speak, from the municipality to operate your

       3      rental?

       4             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  I believe in Newburgh.

       5             I don't have any -- I have properties outside

       6      of Newburgh, but I don't -- there's no registry yet.

       7             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Okay.

       8             So I believe that it's a privilege to do

       9      business with a city or the State, or government,

      10      generally, and, that, with that privilege comes

      11      responsibility to the people that are renting those

      12      units.

      13             And that, as a result of being able to have

      14      the privilege to do business with the municipality

      15      or with the State, that transparency, and the

      16      ability for individuals in the community, and

      17      otherwise, to understand the number of properties

      18      that you are owning for rental units is a pretty

      19      significant fact.

      20             So I will ask you for the last time, and hope

      21      that you will answer the question:  How many units

      22      do you own, or how many properties do you own, that

      23      you are currently renting?

      24             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Where?

      25             SENATOR BIAGGI:  In Newburgh.


       1             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  In the city of Newburgh?

       2             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Uh-huh.

       3             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  10, 13, 12, around there.

       4             SENATOR BIAGGI:  In surrounding areas?

       5             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  I have more.

       6             SENATOR BIAGGI:  About 10? 20? 30?

       7             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Around there.

       8             SENATOR BIAGGI:  30?

       9             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Yeah.

      10             SENATOR BIAGGI:  So about 40, total, so far?

      11             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Okay.

      12             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Would you say that's the

      13      totality of how many properties you own?

      14             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Yes.

      15             SENATOR BIAGGI:  40?

      16             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Okay.

      17             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Okay, about 40.

      18             Thank you.

      19             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Thank you.

      20             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  I just want to make one

      21      last remark, and, look, I wish I didn't have to say

      22      this to a constituent, but, I am still floored, and

      23      I'm deeply offended, that you would characterize any

      24      human being that you deal with as "an animal."

      25                [Applause.]


       1             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Hold on.

       2             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Yes.  Go ahead.

       3             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  I don't care what any

       4      person did to your apartment, or any apartment.

       5      They could be the worst tenant in the world.

       6             They're not animals, sir.

       7             And I think that speaks volume to the

       8      relationship, or lack thereof, that, perhaps, you,

       9      and some other landlords -- not -- there are many,

      10      many good landlords -- have with their tenants, and

      11      the need for government to step in as a municipality

      12      and do proper code enforcement, and as a state

      13      government to make sure that there are protections

      14      in place.

      15             Because, if a landlord views their tenant as

      16      "an animal," clearly, that landlord is not going to

      17      go out of their way to do the right thing by that

      18      person.

      19             And so, nevertheless, I want to thank both of

      20      you for your testimony, and I appreciate your

      21      presence here.

      22             SENATOR KRUEGER:  I have one more question.

      23             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Sorry?

      24             SENATOR KRUEGER:  I have one more question.

      25             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Sorry.


       1             Senator Krueger has one more question.

       2             SENATOR KRUEGER:  Thank you.

       3             Thank you.

       4             Mr. Acevedo, might you have a relationship to

       5      a Michael Acevedo, Sr., who was a marshal --

       6             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Yes, that's me, ma'am.

       7             SENATOR KRUEGER:  -- in Newburgh at the same

       8      time?

       9             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Yes, that's right.

      10             SENATOR KRUEGER:  And you were fired for

      11      illegally evicting tenants; is that correct?

      12             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  No, that's not true.

      13             SENATOR KRUEGER:  But you were fired as a

      14      marshal?

      15             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  I was never fired for

      16      illegal evictions of tenants, no, I did not do that.

      17             SENATOR KRUEGER:  What were you fired for?

      18             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  I was asked to resign

      19      because a new judge came in and he wanted to place

      20      his own marshal in there.

      21             That's why I was asked to resign.

      22             SENATOR KRUEGER:  Do you see any conflict

      23      between being a marshal --

      24             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  At the time --

      25             SENATOR KRUEGER:  -- and evicting tenants?


       1             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  -- I didn't own the

       2      properties, ma'am.

       3             My son owned properties.

       4             SENATOR KRUEGER:  Oh.

       5             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Okay?

       6             SENATOR KRUEGER:  Okay.

       7             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Anything else?

       8             SENATOR KRUEGER:  No --

       9             MICHAEL ACEVEDO:  Thank you.

      10             SENATOR KRUEGER:  -- I'm very interested.

      11             Thank you.

      12             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you.

      13             All right, we're going to switch the next

      14      two, and they've both been notified, and agreed, as

      15      far as I know.

      16             So, next, given the testimony that we just

      17      heard, I'd like to bring up the City of Newburgh.

      18             Joe Donat, city manager.

      19             And congratulations on your permanent

      20      appointment as city manager just this week.

      21             Do we have Jeremy Kaufman here, as well?

      22             Michelle Kelson, Bill Horton, Allie Church.

      23             And I don't know if he's still here, but I do

      24      want to acknowledge that the mayor, Torrance Harvey,

      25      was at least here, in attendance.


       1             Okay.

       2             Before we hear from you, if you could please

       3      just raise your right hand.

       4             Do you solemnly swear that you will tell the

       5      truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,

       6      so help you God?

       7                (All witnesses say "Yes.")

       8             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you.

       9             Go ahead.

      10             JOSEPH DONAT:  Thank you, Senator, members of

      11      the committee.

      12             As you referenced, today is my first day as

      13      being the permanent city manager here in Newburgh.

      14             For the last six months I served in an

      15      interim capacity, and I can tell you, some of the

      16      most disturbing and alarming things I've seen over

      17      the last several months have been related to the

      18      issues that we're discussing here today.

      19             It's my intention to talk about solutions

      20      rather than problems, but before I do that, I will

      21      just say, you may have seen the gentleman to my

      22      right jump up about an hour ago, it was right around

      23      lunchtime.  I'm sure he was hungry.

      24             He wasn't going to get lunch.

      25             He was going to a three-alarm fire less than


       1      a mile away.

       2             Thankfully, that fire has been knocked down,

       3      and everyone's okay.

       4             But that speaks to the amount of different

       5      issues, significant problems, that the city faces on

       6      a daily basis.

       7             For the last 15 years I've worked in the

       8      legislative capacity, so I appreciate the work that

       9      you are all doing here today, of put together

      10      hearings of this nature, and I know firsthand the

      11      amount of work that goes into it.

      12             So, I commend you, your staff, and others.

      13             For the last six years, prior to serving as

      14      interim manager here in the city, I worked above the

      15      codes office for a member of Congress.

      16             I saw the hard work that Chief Horton and his

      17      team does on a daily basis.

      18             He leads by example, and it's an uphill

      19      battle, but he shows up on a daily basis and he

      20      makes a difference.

      21             I'm here with a cross-functional team from

      22      the City because code enforcement is an effective

      23      and important tool for our municipality.

      24             We've spent countless hours working on this

      25      matter, often addressing very severe problems.


       1             But as I discussed, our number-one priority,

       2      the point of what I'll be providing to you today, is

       3      going to be based on safe, affordable, and quality

       4      housing, and now I'm going to talk about some

       5      solutions.

       6             The cities of Buffalo and Syracuse have

       7      implemented a number of different initiatives that

       8      I believe could, legislatively, be enacted for the

       9      city of Newburgh and our fellow cities across the

      10      state of New York that will help address some of the

      11      issues that we're here discussing.

      12             We could allow the City to collect any unpaid

      13      housing-, building-, and fire-code violation

      14      penalties through placement, by the City, onto its

      15      annual tax levy.

      16             This was done in Syracuse.

      17             It was codified in the Real Property Tax Law,

      18      Section 901.

      19             Buffalo's law is, more or less, exactly the

      20      same.

      21             I would encourage for the City of Newburgh to

      22      be allowed to do so as well too.

      23             As a result of this, default offenders would

      24      either have to pay fines or risk losing their

      25      property to tax foreclosure.


       1             Passage would also encourage people to appear

       2      in court and address their violations.

       3             Another item that's been successfully carried

       4      out in Syracuse and Buffalo, would be to allow for

       5      the City to create a municipal code violation

       6      bureau.

       7             It would allow for cities, like Newburgh, and

       8      its code-enforcement officers to treat relatively

       9      minor housing-code violations, that have a

      10      significant impact on the community, in a similar

      11      manner to parking tickets.

      12             Violations of this nature could be issued for

      13      garbage and debris, basic sanitation, graffiti, and

      14      failure to maintain one's sidewalks outside of their

      15      residence.

      16             These tickets would be issued, and,

      17      obviously, adjudicated in a municipal bureau,

      18      similar to a parking-violations bureau that the City

      19      has.

      20             In addition to that, we could revive

      21      multiple-dwelling law, including exploring the

      22      expansion of receiverships in context of housing,

      23      and amend law to cover smaller cities like Newburgh.

      24             Currently, regulations of this matter only

      25      apply to cities with populations of 325,000 or more.


       1             I would encourage, and gladly work with

       2      anyone here today, to allow for this, to apply for

       3      cities of all nature -- of all different population

       4      sizes.

       5             This process would result with receiver

       6      managing property, to recoup costs, to rent or take

       7      title of the property, and, obviously, ensure that

       8      the conditions would be improved as a result.

       9             In addition to this, we could require

      10      property owners who receive government dollars or

      11      vouchers or subsidies for housing to certify and

      12      submit that they have a valid rental license on file

      13      with the municipality.

      14             This is something that the City has worked

      15      hard at doing, and any additional assistance in that

      16      regard will be appreciated.

      17             Last, but not least, we can amend the

      18      Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law to require

      19      more information to any landlord-tenant proceeding.

      20             If we were to do this, it would certify that

      21      they have an active, valid rental license on file,

      22      and, obviously, allow for increased coordination

      23      between all parties.

      24             As I mentioned, I'm gathered here with a

      25      number of different valuable, critical members of my


       1      team:  Chief Horton, Alexandra Church,

       2      Jeremy Kaufman, Michelle Kelson.

       3             And I would gladly yield the rest of my time

       4      for any further comments that they would like to

       5      provide before the question-and-answer session.

       6             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you very much for

       7      your testimony.

       8             And I also want to thank each of you for

       9      cooperating, and really providing assistance to our

      10      efforts over the past number of months.

      11             And thank you, Chief Horton.

      12             I was made aware of what you just went and

      13      left do earlier today, and it does speak to the

      14      important work that happens here in the city of

      15      Newburgh.

      16             So thank you.

      17             I think it's only natural to ask, in light of

      18      what we just heard in -- from the previous

      19      witnesses, what do you make of that, that was said?

      20             I mean, you know, the -- first, I guess, the

      21      discrepancy, where, you know, we have information

      22      straight from the -- this -- the code-enforcement

      23      software, BuildingBlocks, 247 code violations on

      24      Mr. Acevedo's properties in Newburgh.

      25             And I -- and I guess he has -- his sons who


       1      own additional properties, which we weren't aware

       2      of, and that's not even including violations against

       3      those properties.

       4             He said he had a couple of violations,

       5      I think, in recent years?

       6             I mean, do you want to just confirm that the

       7      numbers that we have sound accurate?

       8             And, if you have any other response to, you

       9      know, the various things that he has said.

      10             ALEXANDRA CHURCH:  I do want to take a minute

      11      and thank the Attorney General's Office.

      12             That BuildingBlocks does come from the

      13      Attorney General's Office.

      14             It was not long ago that we weren't able to

      15      do compiling like that.

      16             So I just wanted to take a minute to say all

      17      that.

      18             JOSEPH DONAT:  Yes, the numbers you have are

      19      accurate, and I think they speak for themselves.

      20             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      21             Thank you.

      22             He talked to me about LLCs.

      23             Do you run into -- you know, we heard from

      24      the City of Albany, especially with vacant

      25      properties, they've -- sounds like an enormous


       1      difficulty trying to find out who owns these LLCs

       2      and who to contact.

       3             Same issue here?

       4             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  Both (inaudible)

       5      very similar.

       6             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  For mostly vacant

       7      properties?  But also -- or also for tenant -- or,

       8      for occupied?

       9             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  Rentals as well.

      10             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Both?

      11             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  Yes.

      12             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      13             Do you have any kind of landlord registry?

      14             It sounded like you did, from the previous

      15      witness.

      16             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  We have a rental

      17      registry in which people who rent buildings to

      18      families or individuals in the communities are

      19      supposed to register with the City, and can have an

      20      inspection completed by a code officer.

      21             I would just initially start by saying that

      22      code enforcement in the city is very difficult.

      23             The executive team assembled at this table

      24      right now, there's more people at this table than

      25      who do code enforcement in the city of Newburgh.


       1             There's 10,500 housing units in the city of

       2      Newburgh in less than 3 1/2 square miles.

       3             That's over 3300 housing units per square

       4      mile.

       5             There's four code officers.

       6             We struggle every day to conduct efficient,

       7      effective, and equitable code enforcement, but we

       8      can't do it alone.

       9             It's a struggle.

      10             We are in a reactive posture every day; we

      11      react to problems every day.

      12             We are not proactive.

      13             And that is a problem, for code enforcement,

      14      and for the people who live in the city of Newburgh.

      15             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  You have four code

      16      enforcement officers.

      17             In your professional opinion, how many do you

      18      feel you would need to fully and effectively do the

      19      job that needs to be done?

      20             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  When I was moved

      21      into the position, the previous city manager asked,

      22      What do you need?

      23             I said, I need 10 more code officers in

      24      5 years.

      25             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay, so you need to,


       1      basically, almost triple --

       2             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  Yes.

       3             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  -- the number that you have

       4      right now?

       5             Okay.

       6             If I could ask my staff to put up Exhibit A,

       7      66 Campbell Street, which I know the City is

       8      familiar with.

       9             Recently condemned, and I want to applaud the

      10      City for that.

      11             Clearly, it is a building that should be

      12      condemned.

      13             Can you just walk us through the process of,

      14      you know:

      15             The violations that were levied against this

      16      property?

      17             And, you know, sort of what response you got

      18      from the landlord, or lack of response?

      19             And, what led you to condemn this property?

      20             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  This property had

      21      been, I believe, condemned in 2015 because it was

      22      being used as a single-room occupancy, where

      23      bedrooms were being rented out to individuals rather

      24      than the single family that was -- that had a

      25      certificate of occupancy for it.


       1             This is an interesting case because, the

       2      City, unfortunately, took ownership of 68 Campbell,

       3      the building that was adjacent and connected to it.

       4             The building was acquired by the City.  It

       5      was in extreme disrepair.  I think there was

       6      multiple collapse.  And we had to initiate

       7      demolition of the building.

       8             When the building was demolished, what we

       9      found was that, 66 Campbell was highly dependent on

      10      68 for structural -- or, the structural, the fourth

      11      wall, the west wall.

      12             We "re-condemned" the building, which is kind

      13      of a terrible term, but, we re-condemned the

      14      building and discontinued the utilities to the

      15      building because, number one, it was no longer safe

      16      because of the removal of 68 Campbell.

      17             But the second reason, because it was being

      18      used as a single-room occupancy.

      19             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Do you think the land --

      20      before you condemned it, what was your -- what was

      21      the City's interaction with the owner of that

      22      property?

      23             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  I didn't have a lot

      24      of interaction with him before.

      25             This was one of my earliest buildings I dealt


       1      with when I was moved into the position.

       2             So I think, for the most part, the building,

       3      why it was condemned in 2015 for the SROs,

       4      I wasn't in the office at that time.

       5             But the landlord is not -- does not live in

       6      the city.

       7             It was being used as an SRO.  I think it was

       8      still being used as STAR exemption.

       9             So there were some problems with that

      10      building.

      11             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      12             I know the City, fairly recently, took the

      13      step of issuing a warrant to get a landlord to

      14      appear in court.  This is maybe a month or two ago.

      15             Which I applaud, and I wish every

      16      municipality would utilize more.

      17             But can you talk to me about, is that a new

      18      tool that the City has begun to explore?

      19             Is that something that has happened with some

      20      frequency in recent years?

      21             Is that something that should happen more?

      22             You know, my understanding, from what my team

      23      has found, is that, in all these municipalities

      24      we've looked at, landlords refusing to appear in

      25      court is a very frequent problem.


       1             So, perhaps, can you just -- or, someone talk

       2      about that process; what made you use it in this

       3      case, and how frequently should it be used more,

       4      et cetera?

       5             MICHELLE KELSON:  I'm not personally aware of

       6      this specific case that you are speaking about;

       7      however, as you've heard from prior testimony,

       8      building code violations are prosecuted in the

       9      municipal courts as a quasi-criminal/quasi-civil

      10      action; therefore, some of the availabilities for

      11      criminal practice are available in code-enforcement

      12      proceedings.

      13             So there is the ability for failure to appear

      14      if you are an individual landlord, for a judge to

      15      issue either an arrest warrant for failure to appear

      16      on arraignment, or a bench warrant for failure to

      17      appear on a rescheduled or an adjourned date.

      18             We are able, where we have the requisite

      19      information, to utilize our City of Newburgh police

      20      force to execute arrests and bench warrants as they

      21      would for any other criminal process.

      22             So their jurisdiction is limited by state law

      23      to Orange County and adjacent counties.  We wouldn't

      24      be able to go upstate, we wouldn't be able to

      25      dispatch them to Long Island or into the five


       1      boroughs.

       2             We have used it sporadically over the last

       3      18 years that I've been in the corporation counsel's

       4      office.

       5             Again, it's a matter of resources and

       6      information.

       7             Our police department is also very overtaxed

       8      with various levels of crime, and needs to address

       9      that in priorities.

      10             So, where we have all of the information that

      11      we need to actually execute a warrant, and we have

      12      the available manpower, we're willing to use every

      13      and any tool that's available to us.

      14             And, the more tools that we have in the

      15      toolbox, the more -- the better able that we are to

      16      address those who would not respond to the normal

      17      civil process.

      18             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  And here's my last

      19      question, and thank you for that:

      20             Building off of that, can you just speak to

      21      the scope of the problem I mentioned before, which

      22      is landlords not showing up in housing court, how

      23      often does that happen in Newburgh?

      24             JEREMY KAUFMAN:  I don't have the statistics,

      25      but it happens on a fairly regular basis.


       1             I don't think that as many individuals

       2      recognize that not coming to court is a problem.

       3             If you're summoned to appear in court, you

       4      need to lay all business aside and appear in court.

       5             And our City Court judges take their dockets

       6      very seriously, and they will issue -- they will go

       7      above and beyond to send additional letters and

       8      communications to those property owners, letting

       9      them know that they missed a court date, they're

      10      expected to appear at the next court date.

      11             If they fail to appear at that court date,

      12      then a warrant or some other process may be utilized

      13      to effectuate their appearance in court.

      14             So I think there's a failure to understand

      15      that -- that this is a significant and serious

      16      matter; it should be taken seriously.

      17             Where you don't appear on a traffic offense,

      18      your license can be suspended.

      19             So there are some severe penalties in other

      20      legal parameters that make appearing in court

      21      significant to those who have to be there.

      22             We just don't have those similar consequences

      23      for building- and property-code violations.

      24             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you.

      25             Senator Kavanagh.


       1             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Thank you.

       2             Let me just begin, rather than a question,

       3      just with a point of information, which is, the bill

       4      you described, of permitting municipalities to treat

       5      unpaid fines for building- and fire-code violations,

       6      is a bill that's pending before the Legislature.

       7             And, in fact, the Senate passed it on

       8      May 15th of this year.  And has, actually, this is a

       9      bill that's passed the Senate a couple times

      10      previously.

      11             Senator Gaughran of Long Island carries it in

      12      the Senate.

      13             And Assemblyman Magnarelli in the Assembly,

      14      and has made some effort to pass it in the -- in

      15      previous years.

      16             I'm not sure what the holdup has been in the

      17      Assembly.  There may be some technical concerns

      18      about it.

      19             But I would urge you to contact your Assembly

      20      Members, some of whom have been here today, to

      21      discuss that with them.

      22             Just to get a -- thank you -- first of all,

      23      thank you for bringing, you know, the full team here

      24      today, and for your willingness to share your -- you

      25      know, your experiences with us.


       1             Just, can you -- just to give us a sense, can

       2      you discuss, like, your code -- just -- let me just

       3      (indiscernible) some brief, sort of,

       4      (indiscernible).

       5             How many code-enforcement inspectors do you

       6      have?

       7             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  We have four code

       8      officers who are assigned to both code enforcement

       9      and the building-inspection process, which is, might

      10      be new construction, rehabilitation of a building.

      11             So they might be moving from a

      12      code-enforcement issue of garbage in the yard or

      13      problems with a condemned building, to inspecting a

      14      framing condition for our rehab.

      15             We are very lucky in Newburgh that we're

      16      experiencing a true rebirth in the city.  And we

      17      have a lot of people who have moved to the city, and

      18      are looking to do -- raise their families and

      19      conduct their businesses here.

      20             And they are renovating buildings at a rate

      21      that we have never seen before.

      22             So at the same time as we have stepped up

      23      code enforcement in the city, we've also seen an

      24      increase in the amount of work associated with

      25      framing inspections, electrical inspections,


       1      plumbing inspections.

       2             So those four individuals are doing both.

       3             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  How many in -- how many

       4      buildings under your jurisdiction?

       5             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  There are 6800, or

       6      6500, buildings in the city.

       7             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  So, roughly, one inspector

       8      for every 1600 buildings.  That sounds like quite a

       9      workload.

      10             And how many -- just to get a scale, how many

      11      sends -- how many violations are issued in a year?

      12             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  I believe in the

      13      last year and a half we've issued nearly

      14      3600 violations for buildings in the city.

      15             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  And can you give us a

      16      sense of the disposition of those?

      17             Like, how many of them have resulted in

      18      fines, how many of them were dismissed; that sort of

      19      thing?

      20             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  We've issued

      21      3556 violations.

      22             Sorry, I left my glasses in the car when

      23      I came back.

      24             1900 have been corrected, and nearly

      25      1,000 are still open or pending.


       1             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  And how much does an

       2      inspector make?

       3             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  I believe -- you

       4      know, I wanted to the look at that this morning, but

       5      I believe an inspector makes around $38,000 a year,

       6      to $39,000.

       7             There's incremental steps, as they gain

       8      seniority, in their collective bargaining agreement.

       9             I would also add that, of the four code

      10      inspectors, three of them have less than three years

      11      experience.

      12             So we're dealing with new employees who are

      13      working really hard to get up to speed with code

      14      enforcement.

      15             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Okay, that was actually --

      16      I was going to ask, how is -- how are inspectors

      17      recruited, and how are they trained?

      18             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  Inspectors are

      19      recruited through the civil-service process.

      20             We put a posting out to -- that we're looking

      21      to hire code-enforcement officers.

      22             We look to hire people who already have the

      23      class -- the six classes that give you the

      24      certifications of a code-enforcement officer.

      25             We were struggling with that.


       1             We had people who applied to be a

       2      code-enforcement officer, and that were offered

       3      positions in Westchester for twice the salary.

       4             So that makes it very difficult for us to

       5      attract strong candidates.

       6             We are -- one time before we offered the

       7      classes in the city, with the hopes of recruiting

       8      some residents.

       9             And one of our successful candidates was

      10      Tammy Hollings, our (indiscernible) property

      11      specialist, who went through the program, and

      12      eventually we were able to hire her.

      13             We're also working with the school district

      14      to, possibly, much like electricians or plumbers, is

      15      to actually have a code-enforcement program in the

      16      high school, so that, when they graduate, they might

      17      be able to get a job with the City.

      18             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  That sounds like a smart

      19      (indiscernible cross-talking).

      20             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  But the funding is

      21      difficult.

      22             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  How -- in -- just -- we

      23      heard from Albany that -- I think we were going to

      24      get details on this, but, roughly speaking, they're

      25      taking in $1.8 million in fines, and spending about


       1      $1.2 million on the enforcement effort, which

       2      suggests a -- you know, a generous return on their

       3      enforcement efforts.

       4             Do you have -- the funding for the -- for

       5      code enforcement and the revenue that comes in from

       6      fines?

       7             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  I really can't speak

       8      to the revenue too much with the fines.  I don't

       9      typically follow that.

      10             Once it goes into the court proceedings,

      11      I don't manage that number really effectively.

      12             Our code-enforcement budget is, typically,

      13      approaches three-quarters of a million dollars.

      14             That's what it costs us to put the four

      15      officers out, plus the account clerks and the

      16      plumbing inspector, and issues like that.

      17             So three -- it's nearly $750,000 it costs us

      18      right now.

      19             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  And, presumably, you know,

      20      I didn't mean to suggest that the only way that

      21      would be funded would be through fines.

      22             There's, presumably, other revenue associated

      23      with reviewing plans, and --

      24             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  (Indiscernible

      25      cross-talking) fees, street openings, plumbing


       1      permits, electrical permits, all contribute to the

       2      cost of doing business.

       3             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Great.

       4             JEREMY KAUFMAN:  If I may answer that, if

       5      I may add on to that too?

       6             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Please.

       7             JEREMY KAUFMAN:  That the -- is that the

       8      amount of -- is that the -- the fine amounts that

       9      are collected aren't necessarily indicative of the

      10      overall progress, with respect to what's made in the

      11      housing stock, generally.

      12             Oftentimes, when a violation is reported up

      13      to court, it's generally the policy of this office,

      14      and just kind of, in an overall practice, to not

      15      offer -- to not make plea offers or settlement

      16      offers, unless and until the underlying violations

      17      are remediated.

      18             It's really important that compliance be

      19      done.  That's kind of the first -- really, our first

      20      job here, at least in terms of prosecuting the -- in

      21      terms of prosecuting a lot of these cases.

      22             People who have substandard housing, we want

      23      to make sure that they're brought up to code, that

      24      they are safe, that they are code-compliant.

      25             And so the fines, while they are very helpful


       1      as far as the, kind of, City's financial health and

       2      bottom line in a lot of ways, isn't necessarily the

       3      entire picture, and that we also try to focus on and

       4      make sure that we get underlying compliance to bring

       5      the properties up to code as well.

       6             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  I appreciate that.

       7             And I mentioned up front that we want to hear

       8      exactly that kind of, you know, perspective today.

       9             The -- how do you become aware of conditions

      10      that residents believe might be violations of the

      11      code?

      12             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  They typically

      13      contact the code officer either by phone, or stop in

      14      many times.  They do stop right into the office.

      15             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Is there like a widely --

      16      is there a hotline or some widely circulated number?

      17             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  Just the eight --

      18      the general number to the code-enforcement

      19      officer --

      20             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Got you.

      21             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  -- office, excuse

      22      me.

      23             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  And what -- and how many

      24      complaints do you get in a year?

      25             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  We -- do have you


       1      that?

       2             JEREMY KAUFMAN:  Well -- so in a particular

       3      year, what you're really talking about, and this --

       4      and the City also has a general policy of -- in its

       5      best effort, to try to investigate each and every

       6      phone call.

       7             So while some may or may not actually have

       8      merit to them, ultimately, it's still the City's

       9      policy and the City's position that every single

      10      phone call that comes in should be treated as though

      11      it does have merit.

      12             So what often happens is, a phone call --

      13      typically, a phone call will come in to the building

      14      department.  Those numbers, typically, are -- you're

      15      looking at, anywhere from, I think, about six to

      16      seven thousand, just phone calls, dealing with

      17      possible issues.

      18             Those issues are then investigated further;

      19      some may have some merit, some may not.

      20             Some may then grow and turn out to reveal

      21      that there are housing-code violations or

      22      housing-code issues that come about from that.

      23             If there are violations, the code-enforcement

      24      officers are told and instructed, basically, if you

      25      see it, it's a -- if you see it, then you have to


       1      write it, similar to a parking ticket in

       2      New York City.

       3             If you're beyond a -- if you're beyond a

       4      deadline in the -- you know, for the -- for your

       5      parking ticket, they're just told to write it.  And

       6      then dealing with it afterwards kind of escalates --

       7      escalates up, accordingly.

       8             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  So I want to wrap up.

       9             But we've heard some testimony today, and in

      10      the Housing Committee in recent hearings has heard a

      11      lot of testimony, on the notion that tenants have a

      12      lot of disincentive to report conditions in their

      13      buildings because of concern about retaliation or,

      14      you know, other negative consequences that come from

      15      reporting conditions, even when they're quite

      16      problematic.

      17             Do you have a perspective on that, whether

      18      that is a significant factor?

      19             MICHELLE KELSON:  We are -- we are advised by

      20      our elected officials that retaliatory conduct is

      21      reported to them on a fairly frequent basis.

      22             We take complaints, we try to investigate

      23      them all.

      24             Our policy is to comply with all legal

      25      requirements.


       1             We are able, within the confines of the

       2      Freedom of Information law, to withhold the names of

       3      the complainants.

       4             So we do try, to the best of our abilities,

       5      to protect their identities, to make sure that we

       6      are investigating the problem.

       7             We're unable to really track retaliatory

       8      conduct, but, we hear the same information, that

       9      conduct generally gets reported to our elected

      10      officials, and then our elected officials then

      11      report it back to us.

      12             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  And -- and one of the most

      13      common retaliatory actions that we hear about are --

      14      are efforts to evict.

      15             Do you -- you know, and we've had legislation

      16      before us to strengthen people's protections against

      17      evictions for no reason, you know, that -- for

      18      reason -- for eviction without a good cause.

      19             Do you have a perspective on whether there

      20      might be some merit in making it -- making it clear

      21      that landlords can't evict tenants for -- without

      22      any good cause?

      23             MICHELLE KELSON:  Our city council has taken

      24      an official position to support the state

      25      Legislature in their actions to pass state


       1      legislation that would provide for those

       2      protections, and, from our perspective, we support

       3      our legislators.

       4             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Thank you.

       5             ALEXANDRA CHURCH:  And with that, this needs

       6      to be part of a larger conversation as well.

       7             The City had 42 eviction -- condemnations

       8      last year.

       9             Those are hundreds of people that the City,

      10      on our own action, by finding these non-compliant

      11      structures, put out.

      12             And we need to have a comprehensive policy to

      13      have safe and secure places in New York State where

      14      these people can live.

      15             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  And does that involve

      16      having additional resources, to make sure that -- to

      17      give you an alternative to condemning the building

      18      and removing the residents?

      19             We had testimony earlier about emergency

      20      repair programs, which are fairly active in

      21      New York City.

      22             But --

      23             ALEXANDRA CHURCH:  Absolutely, both emergency

      24      repair and emergency housing in -- within the city

      25      of Newburgh.


       1             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Great.

       2             Okay.  Well --

       3             MICHELLE KELSON:  We do try to be sensitive

       4      to the fact that, if a building has to be condemned

       5      or vacated, that it's, ultimately, the people who

       6      are living in those buildings that have to scramble,

       7      and that they're -- they face the most difficult

       8      challenges.

       9             The City has endeavored, in multiple

      10      iterations, to work with our county partners, to

      11      work with any -- we have multiple not-for-profit

      12      agencies that operate in the city of Newburgh.

      13             We've done our level best, without legal

      14      requirement, to, again, leverage those resources to

      15      prevent displacement where we can prevent

      16      displacement.

      17             We do -- we do support a wide range of

      18      housing opportunities.

      19             We know that there's no one-size-fits-all,

      20      and we try to do our jobs to the benefit of all the

      21      interested parties.

      22             And there's many stakeholders in this

      23      process.

      24             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  I would also add

      25      that (inaudible) abatements are -- can be difficult.


       1             Code-enforcement condemnations happen at the

       2      worst time.  They happen at 6:00 on a Friday as --

       3      as offices are closed.  Staff is gone -- from the

       4      different agencies, have gone to their own homes.

       5             And it's very difficult to place somebody at

       6      6:00 on a Friday night.

       7             Our emergency housing is in the city of

       8      Middletown for Orange County.  That means the

       9      families have to be -- gain transportation out to

      10      the city of Middletown, 20 miles away.

      11             And their question is:

      12             Well, how do I get my kids to school the next

      13      day?

      14             How do I get to work the next day?

      15             What are we going to do?

      16             Emergency housing is a significant issue, and

      17      sometimes alternatives to condemnation don't always

      18      exist.

      19             When the building is in a state of disrepair

      20      that requires condemnation, there's not a lot of

      21      give-and-take about that.  It has to be condemned.

      22             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  And from my -- from my --

      23      the difference between condemnation and -- is that

      24      what we would -- might also refer as a "vacate

      25      order," or is that something different?


       1             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  It's essentially the

       2      same thing.

       3             The building's condemned.  That means it's

       4      uninhabitable, for whatever reason.  It could be

       5      because there's no water.  It could be because

       6      there's no heat.  It could be because the roof caved

       7      in.

       8             Any number of reasons causes a building to be

       9      condemned.

      10             Typically, an order to vacate is also issued

      11      that same -- for that same building.

      12             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  I see.

      13             Okay.

      14             Well, I will -- I will conclude there.

      15             And if you would pass along to your

      16      inspectors our thanks for the work they're doing

      17      under what sounds like very difficult and

      18      underresourced circumstances.

      19             But -- you know, and thank you, all of you,

      20      for the work you're doing, and the testimony today.

      21             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Senator Carlucci.

      22             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Thank you.

      23             And I want to thank all of you for being here

      24      today and testifying and sharing with us your

      25      experiences.


       1             And I have to say, after the previous

       2      testimony from the Orange County Landlords

       3      Association, I'm very concerned and, frankly

       4      disturbed by some of the responses that we got;

       5      particularly, that we have the president of the

       6      association, with over 247 code violations, and then

       7      we learn that there might be more because we don't

       8      know about the properties owned, and the fact that

       9      the landlord association would send us someone

      10      unwilling to tell us exact numbers, is very

      11      concerning.

      12             And even more so, and this is the question

      13      for you, is that, he was asked -- one of the

      14      landlords was asked, with the 247 violations, How

      15      much have you paid in fines?

      16             And this is a theme that we have seen

      17      reoccurring, and one of the problems we particularly

      18      have in the community that I represent, is that even

      19      when these violations are taken to court, that it's

      20      almost not even a slap on the wrist to the

      21      landlords.

      22             And this has become the culture or the cost

      23      of doing business.

      24             How is it possible, and if it is even

      25      correct, that one of the landlords, with


       1      247 violations that was confirmed by the City of

       2      Newburgh, could then only pay about $200 in fines?

       3             Is that accurate, and how does that's happen?

       4             JEREMY KAUFMAN:  Well, I don't know whether

       5      or not that particular -- that particular statistic

       6      is -- is actually accurate.

       7             I mean, the way the -- the other thing to

       8      keep in mind is that, the way that violations are

       9      generally generated, not every violation

      10      automatically escalates all the way up to court.

      11             There's a handful of time -- there's a number

      12      of, kind of, circuit breakers in the process that

      13      allow a -- that allow a property owner to comply.

      14             And the other thing to keep in mind is that,

      15      you're trying to create a scheme or a system that is

      16      applicable to each and every property owner, not

      17      just the worst of the worst.

      18             So, that's balancing what Chief Horton said

      19      before about the scarce resources that the City has.

      20             What we try to do is build in opportunities

      21      for property owners to comply upon the initial

      22      receipt of a violation.

      23             They have opportunities to cure.

      24             They have opportunities to come back and get

      25      a reinspection.


       1             They then have opportunities for further

       2      inspection.

       3             They have opportunities to cure in court.

       4             So there's an entire, kind of, system in

       5      place for how people can deal with them.

       6             Of the 200 and some-odd violations in

       7      particular, I don't know, off the top of my head,

       8      how many went -- ultimately went all the way to

       9      court and were resolved in court with a fine.

      10             But that's certainly some information that we

      11      can provide at a, kind of, off -- offline there.

      12             The other -- the other thing to -- that might

      13      be helpful, though, in dealing with some of these

      14      issues, is further enforcement, in the manner in

      15      which the -- the previous landlord stated, he

      16      mentioned that he was -- that he spends time in

      17      court, evicting, or trying to evict, you know,

      18      tenants who aren't -- or, who he has issues with.

      19             Our city manager mentioned a minute ago, one

      20      proposal, to, basically, build into any real estate

      21      eviction petition a requirement that they verify --

      22      that any landlord who wants to evict a tenant

      23      verifies whether or not they actually have a rental

      24      license on file and in effect with the City.

      25             You could add in other things, too, about --


       1      about numbers of violations.

       2             And make that critical jurisdictional

       3      information before entertaining a petition, akin to

       4      your name and address, where you don't even get

       5      through the door to have your -- to have your

       6      petition to evict entertained unless you can, up

       7      front, tell the Court that you're in compliance with

       8      everything you need to be in.

       9             So, that's just one other suggestion for how

      10      to address problems similar to what the previous

      11      landlord had spoken to.

      12             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  And just so I understand,

      13      I know you don't have the documents in front of you,

      14      but it is possible, though, that a landlord could be

      15      hit with 247 violations and pay no fine whatsoever?

      16             MICHELLE KELSON:  It is within the realm of

      17      possibility.

      18             So a fine is only assessed after a violation

      19      is then elevated for enforcement in our municipal

      20      court system, and either has been processed through

      21      to a verdict after a trial, or has been resolved

      22      through what is known in a criminal process as a

      23      "plea bargain," in which the fine would then be

      24      assessed by the judge.

      25             So while the Legislature sets the maximum


       1      amount that a fine can be, and there is

       2      jurisdictional ways, as the City of Albany

       3      indicated, that there intended to be a fine for each

       4      day that the violation exists, all of those things

       5      need to be properly pled and properly followed in

       6      your criminal procedure in order for a judge to be

       7      able to assess a fine that would accomplish that

       8      order of magnitude.

       9             So what I want to reiterate is -- what I also

      10      wanted to point out is that, everybody is talking

      11      about $250 a day.

      12             So the Executive Law does provide fines for

      13      uniform building code violations of -- maximum of up

      14      to $1,000 a day.

      15             For some reason, that doesn't seem to be

      16      translating back down to some of the municipal

      17      judges and other people who prosecute these code

      18      violations on a regular basis.

      19             Our own city code provides for a maximum

      20      fine, in certain instances, of $250 a day.

      21             But, where we're required to enforce the

      22      state uniform building code, those fines could be as

      23      great as $1,000 a day.

      24             So that's something else that needs, I think,

      25      to be publicized, and I think everybody needs to be


       1      aware -- made aware that the potential exposure is

       2      much higher than it is.

       3             And what we have done in our City Court

       4      violations, is to try to improve our papers, and

       5      improve our presentation, so that the property

       6      owners who do come to court, who are called before

       7      the judges, can understand that it's not just the

       8      one violation.

       9             It's one -- that violation times X number of

      10      days that you have failed to do anything about it,

      11      leading to a potential exposure of tens of thousands

      12      of dollars.

      13             And that usually gets somebody's attention

      14      to, again, at least go down the road of compliance.

      15             Now, you can assess 150,000, 200,000 dollars

      16      in fines, but that's not going to protect the party

      17      who is now being forced to live under those horrible

      18      conditions if compliance has not been achieved.

      19             So we have a -- kind of a balancing effort to

      20      make sure that compliance is one of our significant

      21      goals.

      22             We know that fines can be a deterrent if they

      23      are significant enough and they can be levied in a

      24      way that will cause a deterrent effect.

      25             And that goes back to one of the bills that


       1      we hope the Assembly will take up, that would allow

       2      these fines, where they remain unpaid, to be

       3      re-levied into the real property tax, and collected

       4      in the form of a delinquent tax, if necessary, where

       5      the ultimate pain, the ultimate remedy, would be the

       6      loss of title to the property, which, if you're a

       7      landlord and that's your investment, that's a

       8      significant loss.

       9             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Well, thank you.

      10             And --

      11             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  And I would just

      12      add --

      13             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  -- yeah.

      14             ASST CHIEF BILL HORTON:  -- I struggle with

      15      the idea of compliance (indiscernible).

      16             I'm not fine-driven, I'm not fine-motivated;

      17      I'm compliance-driven about these properties.

      18             But one of the things that I struggle with

      19      is, if somebody has -- a property has a violation,

      20      we issued a violation, and we -- you have 7 days to

      21      comply, you have 14 days to comply, or whatever it

      22      is, equate that to a speeding ticket.

      23             If you get a speeding ticket, you're given a

      24      ticket, and you move on.

      25             You don't gain relief from that ticket


       1      because you don't speed for the next seven days.

       2             You don't gain relief from that ticket

       3      because you're a good person for the next two weeks.

       4             If you -- if your building has a violation,

       5      there should be a -- there should be a complaint --

       6      a violation issued, and it shouldn't matter that you

       7      cleaned it up in 29 days when 30 days was the time

       8      that you're supposed to get it cleaned up on.

       9             No matter what, yes, you should clean it up,

      10      but there also should be some type of penalty or fee

      11      associated because the violation occurred in the

      12      first place.

      13             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Right.

      14             And that's what it sounds like, that the cost

      15      of doing business, the landlords have associated in

      16      that, well, catch me if you can, and then, if so,

      17      I can rectify it.

      18             So there's no real concern for the welfare of

      19      the tenants, no -- no real leverage that the

      20      government/code enforcement can put on the landlords

      21      because, okay, if they catch me, I'll see how long

      22      I can go without the four code inspectors --

      23      code-enforcement officers in the city of Newburgh to

      24      find me.

      25             So I think you're right on on that.


       1             And I appreciate you paying atten -- or --

       2      or -- or, profiling the case of the legislation to

       3      add the code violations to the tax levy.

       4             And that's a legislation that I've carried,

       5      and we've passed in the Senate in the past, and,

       6      hopefully, we can get it through both Houses.

       7             But now the concern that I have, even with

       8      that legislation, and putting that legislation

       9      forward, is that you will have situations where the

      10      judges still just will plea down these fines.

      11             Right now, if we were able to pass that

      12      legislation, how would it impact the City of

      13      Newburgh?

      14             Because, as we know, it has to be violations

      15      that are over a year, and then it would added to the

      16      tax Levy.

      17             Could you tell us, approximately, like, how

      18      many outstanding violations do we have over a

      19      one-year period in terms of fines?

      20             MICHELLE KELSON:  Well, I don't know if we

      21      have any exact statistics, but what it would -- it

      22      would give us -- it would give us a tool that would

      23      not require an additional use of resources to try

      24      and collect those fines from those who are required

      25      to pay.


       1             So, a re-levy process is something that we

       2      already have in place for unpaid water bills, unpaid

       3      sewer bills, unpaid sanitation bills.

       4             If we are able to achieve a fine -- a fine is

       5      assessed in court, and, for whatever reason, that

       6      fine remains unpaid, we can file the -- we can get

       7      that fine converted to a judgment.  The judgment can

       8      be recorded in the county court records.

       9             There's a small fee for that, which we gladly

      10      pay.

      11             That fine can -- that judgment can languish.

      12             The mechanism for us to enforce that lien

      13      would to be execute on the judgment.

      14             There may be superior liens on the property

      15      which would make that process ineffectual, and it's

      16      an additional resource that we have to engage in in

      17      our legal department.

      18             Jeremy Kaufman (indicating) and

      19      Michelle Kelson (indicating), we're the only two

      20      lawyers for the City of Newburgh.  We do all the

      21      legal work.

      22             This is one component of the legal work

      23      that's required, and it takes a substantial period

      24      of time.

      25             Sometimes when the property then gets


       1      transferred and these judgments come up in a title

       2      search, then, all of a sudden, we get a telephone

       3      call, Hey, how can we pay this off because there's a

       4      lien on the property?

       5             And so then it becomes the cost of doing

       6      business because, I want to get the property sold,

       7      you know, it will come out of the purchase price.

       8             That's fine.

       9             But in a re-levy situation, it's automatic.

      10             We already do it.  It doesn't require any

      11      additional legal resources.  It's all done

      12      automatically, and it's a process that we already

      13      have in place.

      14             And when people get their tax-foreclosure

      15      notifications, you can bet that the people pay a lot

      16      more attention to a notice that says, If you don't

      17      pay this, you will lose all right, title, and

      18      interest to your property by a certain date.

      19             So it's a fairly Draconian remedy, it's

      20      intended to be a Draconian remedy, and it doesn't

      21      require any additional use of resources on the

      22      City's part, which is what makes it a little bit

      23      better of a tool for us.

      24             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Thank you.

      25             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thanks very much.


       1             I think that's all of our questions.

       2             And I really want to express my gratitude to

       3      all of you, who I work with on a whole bunch of

       4      different things, but, really, for your

       5      participation here, and like I said, for the past

       6      number of months, your cooperation.

       7             Thanks very much.

       8             Okay, next up will be Rockland County

       9      Initiative.

      10             And if I may, to all the witnesses, and also

      11      my colleagues, just be mindful of the time.

      12             We do have another hearing this afternoon

      13      that we need to get to, and there will be witnesses

      14      there.

      15             So, with that, welcome.

      16             Catherine Johnson Southern; right?

      17             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  Correct.

      18             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Yep.

      19             Thank you for being here.

      20             If you may, just please raise your right

      21      hand.

      22             Do you solemnly swear that you'll tell the

      23      truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,

      24      so help you God?

      25             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  I do.


       1             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you.

       2             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  Good afternoon,

       3      and thank you, Senator Skoufis and other Senators,

       4      members of the committee, for inviting me here

       5      today.

       6             I am thrilled to be here, and to represent

       7      Rockland County, particularly the department of

       8      health.

       9             I am currently the deputy commissioner of

      10      health.

      11             I am in charge of all public health programs,

      12      and the program I'm here to speak about today is

      13      "RCI," otherwise known as the "Rockland Codes

      14      Initiative."

      15             We have now a center in Rockland called

      16      The Center for Rockland Codes Investigations, as of

      17      February of this year.

      18             So a little bit of history.

      19             Myself, I've been with the Rockland County

      20      Department of Health for 32 years.

      21             I started out myself as a housing inspector.

      22      Became a supervisor in housing, then left and did

      23      other programs, tobacco, body art.

      24             And in 2013 I was put back in housing as the

      25      program manager in housing.


       1             And, at that time, the housing program was

       2      getting smaller and smaller because it wasn't, and

       3      still is not, a State-mandated program for

       4      enforcement.

       5             We enforce New York State Public Health Law.

       6             We also enforce Rockland County sanitary

       7      codes.

       8             So, in 2014, after a year of being in charge

       9      of the program, our county executive was elected,

      10      Mr. Ed Day, and he ran with a platform and an

      11      agenda to improve the housing stock in

      12      Rockland County.

      13             That was half the mission.

      14             And the other half of that mission was to

      15      protect our first responders in Rockland County.

      16             And, again, timing is everything.

      17             We all are aware that, in 2007, 2008, we

      18      experienced a mortgage crisis throughout New York.

      19             And so what we had going on in

      20      Rockland County, in addition to the housing stock,

      21      you know, inspections not being made, but we then

      22      had single-family homes that were going into

      23      foreclosure, and that were being bought for cash,

      24      and then used as, you know, six apartments.

      25             They would be on the tax rolls as a


       1      single-family house, but when you make

       2      six apartments illegally, convert them -- convert

       3      the garage, convert the attic, convert the

       4      basement -- it poses very serious and dangerous

       5      conditions, not only for the residents, the tenants,

       6      but also for our first responders.

       7             And so the Rockland Codes Initiative, 4 years

       8      young, as I sit here, was -- began, and it commenced

       9      enforcing Article 13, Housing, Hygiene, and

      10      Occupancy, one of our sanitary codes, under the

      11      auspices of Article 1, the commissioner of health's

      12      awesome powers, to allow enforcement to take place.

      13             And you all have a, you know, folder in front

      14      of you, which sets forth our work and what we've

      15      done over the past four years.

      16             So, at the health department, we do

      17      administrative enforcement.

      18             And so, with the Codes Initiative, what we

      19      sought to do was to enforce Article 13, and to seek

      20      the highest possible fines, which are up to $2,000

      21      per day per violation.

      22             And, again, enforcement is what we do, but we

      23      do seek compliance, and we also educate.

      24             We then developed a website where residents,

      25      any member of the public, can register a complaint.


       1             We also have on our website "The Worst

       2      Landlord List," which shows, displays, every couple

       3      of months we change it out, the five worst

       4      landlords; people who do not correct the violations

       5      when given the opportunity to do so.

       6             That was initiated four years ago.

       7             About two years ago we said, Hey, let's be a

       8      little kinder and gentler.

       9             So we also have a "Most-Improved Landlord" on

      10      the website now.

      11             And we also developed a multiple-dwelling

      12      rental registry, and this went into effect in 2017.

      13             This requires that any landlord who owns,

      14      rents, three or more units has to pay a fee -- a

      15      one-time fee of $25 per unit, and register with the

      16      Rockland County Health Department.

      17             When they register, they must give us the

      18      name of the owner, and a responsible party with an

      19      address in Rockland County.

      20             And I've spoken to Senator Skoufis before,

      21      and I explained that, when we have the LLCs, very

      22      difficult, because our program is completely

      23      complaint-based.

      24             And so the first thing we do when we get a

      25      complaint, is to find out, who is the responsible


       1      party? who is the owner?

       2             And oftentimes we find LLCs, and we see the

       3      LLC is -- you know, can be sold, you know, to

       4      somebody else.  It could be ABC, LLC, sold to

       5      123, LLC, with the same principal partners.

       6             But oftentimes, when we go online to look at

       7      the New York Department of State, we don't have a

       8      responsible party.

       9             So it takes a lot of time and energy trying

      10      to find out who we're going to go after when we get

      11      these complaints.

      12             So that's just one suggestion, where, if we

      13      could, develop a way where the department of state

      14      required an individual's name and an address in the

      15      locality where they're being -- where they're found

      16      under violation.

      17             So, again, complaint-based.

      18             We take complaints from the public.

      19             We take them by telephone, people walk in.

      20      People meet us out in the field.

      21             My -- the team that works with me, we have

      22      two supervisors, a program manager, six inspectors,

      23      three support staff.

      24             And we have, also, a Healthy Neighborhoods

      25      component; so again, education, very important.  And


       1      we have two individuals in that program.

       2             This paradigm of enforcement has worked for

       3      us over the past four years.

       4             As I said, the fines are significant.

       5             $2,000 per day per violation is the maximum.

       6             Where, in the past, prior to the innovative

       7      approach, we would bring in, maybe, you know,

       8      people, fine them, $200, $500.

       9             When we started this program, it really woke

      10      people up.

      11             We were now fining, $20,000, $30,000,

      12      $40,000.  And, again, these are the assessed fines.

      13             Collections are not as high as the assessed

      14      fines are.

      15             But one thing that we found in the past year

      16      is that we are gaining compliance, and we do now

      17      offer stipulations.

      18             So as long as all the violations are

      19      corrected, we then accept a stipulated fine amount.

      20             But, again, the fines are high, and they're

      21      not the purpose of our enforcement.

      22             We really want compliance.  We want safe

      23      housing, sanitary conditions.

      24             But we are collecting fines, more now than we

      25      were in the past, with the stipulations.


       1             In addition to enforcing Article 13, Housing,

       2      Hygiene, and Occupancy, we have expanded our

       3      enforcement under Article 1, and so we are also

       4      doing enforcement in some of the private schools

       5      where we're finding egregious unsanitary conditions.

       6             We're doing enforcement under Article 3,

       7      Offensive Material.

       8             Again, these are sanitary codes.

       9             Article 4, Sewage.

      10             And what we've done is, and to begin with, an

      11      intra-department enforcement.

      12             So we're working with all the different

      13      departments within the health department, so, our

      14      environmental division; our community health; our

      15      children programs for early intervention and pre-K,

      16      the homes where those children are living.

      17             We really work with all of our departments

      18      within health, as well as, throughout the county,

      19      all the other departments.  So we work with the

      20      department of social services, adult protective

      21      services, the office of fire and emergency services.

      22      We work with consumer protection.

      23             Most recently we formed a liaison with our

      24      department of human rights, for fair housing and

      25      discrimination.


       1             So, from my perspective, and I think that our

       2      county executive has done a tremendous job, is, if

       3      you take a program and you make it a State mandate,

       4      if all counties throughout New York State had to,

       5      you know, we're mandated, to have a housing program

       6      in their health department, in public health, and

       7      work within the community.

       8             We work diligently every single day with the

       9      municipalities, with the building and fire

      10      departments, throughout Rockland County.

      11             We are in constant contact, letting them know

      12      of violations that we found that would also be

      13      violations of their code.

      14             Our program manager, who's, unfortunately,

      15      not here any longer with us here today, but he is a

      16      member of NYSBOC.

      17             So he is familiar, he knows; he's been with

      18      the department of health for 38 years, and he knows

      19      the building and fire code inside out and backwards.

      20             We do not do zoning, we don't have

      21      jurisdiction for that, but we certainly work with

      22      the building department on zoning issues.

      23             Rooming houses, they were mentioned earlier

      24      today.  They are a big problem in Rockland County.

      25             And there is information in the packet that


       1      I provided.

       2             Rooming houses, where there's three or more

       3      unrelated individuals living, you know, in the same

       4      place, and they are renting units.

       5             We will permit, at the Rockland County

       6      Department of Health, a rooming house.

       7             We do not care if the building department has

       8      said, We don't allow them in our jurisdiction.

       9             We will bring it to their attention that they

      10      do have a rooming house within their jurisdiction.

      11             It is then up to them to say, We're not going

      12      to allow it; to go out and inspect and disband it.

      13             If they do not, the health department will go

      14      in and we will permit that rooming house.

      15             We will make sure that it is safe and

      16      sanitary; that every person living there has a smoke

      17      detector, a carbon monoxide detector, water, toilet

      18      facilities, and everything is in place.

      19             So, again, we get a lot of calls from the

      20      building department.  I think we make more calls to

      21      them.

      22             But I think it is, and as, you know,

      23      Assemblyman Zebrowski said first thing this morning,

      24      everybody needs to work together.

      25             And if the State provides oversight and a


       1      means for everybody to work together, I think that

       2      would be very helpful.

       3             State, county, and municipal level, we all

       4      need to work together, and I think it's very

       5      possible for us to do that.

       6             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thanks very much for your

       7      testimony.

       8             And when our team and I met with you and some

       9      other county officials, it was really quite an

      10      illuminating meeting.

      11             I just have a couple of questions.

      12             First, to your knowledge, is this the only --

      13      is Rockland County the only county in New York that

      14      has an initiative like this?

      15             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  Yes, to my

      16      knowledge it is.

      17             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay, that was my

      18      understanding as well, and I agree with you.

      19             I think that, you know, there -- this ought

      20      to be looked at in other counties, and, you know,

      21      we're going to recommend that they do that.

      22             I do want to just explore a little bit about

      23      this -- you know, the packet that you handed out.

      24             So here, clearly, I mean, this is, total

      25      number of complaints received, RCI complaints, and


       1      complaints to the Town.

       2             And it's a pretty startling graph, in that,

       3      Ramapo has more than triple the next nearest town in

       4      terms of number of complaints to the Initiative over

       5      the past number of years.

       6             Can you give your sort of synopsis as to

       7      (a) why that is?

       8             And, also, if you can speak to your

       9      relationship with the five towns' building

      10      departments, and how your relationship is with

      11      Ramapo specifically?

      12             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  Sure.

      13             I believe that we have an excellent

      14      relationship with most of the municipalities.

      15             There are five towns, there are also hamlets

      16      and villages within all the towns, and we do work

      17      well.

      18             When the Codes Initiative started, I met with

      19      all of the building departments and tried to put out

      20      there that we wanted to work together.

      21             I would say that, Clarkstown, Orangetown,

      22      Stony Point, Haverstraw, we have worked diligently,

      23      and I think we have a very successful relationship.

      24             Ramapo is a struggle, but we do work with

      25      them.  We do reach out to them and let them know of


       1      the problems that we find.

       2             Yes, there are, obviously, the statistics

       3      bear out, more complaints come in from Ramapo.

       4             And it's, again, we go out and investigate

       5      the complaints that are brought to us.

       6             So, it speaks for itself.

       7             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Would you -- would you --

       8      do you believe that Ramapo and the building

       9      department there cooperates well with the

      10      Initiative?

      11             Would you describe it that way, or would you

      12      describe it perhaps a different way?

      13             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  I would say that

      14      the health department reaches out to Ramapo just as

      15      much as we reach out to any other municipality.

      16             And I would say that there are struggles, and

      17      I believe there are issues going on within the town

      18      of Ramapo and the various municipalities within

      19      Ramapo, that, perhaps, make it, you know, difficult

      20      for them to, I guess, have a working relationship

      21      with us.

      22             A lot of, you know, people --

      23             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  I know you're being very

      24      careful --

      25             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  Yes, I am being


       1      very careful.

       2             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  -- with your words right

       3      now.

       4             But if you can -- if you can, perhaps,

       5      illuminate on what exactly you're getting at here.

       6             So, local problems that make it difficult for

       7      the Town to work with you, what exactly do you mean

       8      by that?

       9             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  Yes, there --

      10      I'm familiar with, just being a resident of

      11      Rockland County my entire life, in Ramapo there is

      12      not, by the building departments, it doesn't seem,

      13      the same kind of enforcement that goes on in the

      14      other towns in Rockland County.

      15             So other members have already spoken today.

      16             Gordon Wren, about the enforcement that is

      17      done, the code enforcement, in Ramapo.

      18             But I really am not an expert on Town code

      19      enforcement, but, again, the fines and the different

      20      ways that, you know, problems come about.

      21             I will say that it is very difficult to work

      22      in the town of Ramapo.

      23             There seems to be building that goes on that

      24      kind of behooves what should be being done.

      25             I think I explained in the past to you,


       1      Senator Skoufis, that we have permits for a -- maybe

       2      four buildings, a four-family structure, that's

       3      going to be built.

       4             We turn around and we see, now we don't

       5      enforce zoning, but, eight units are built on that

       6      property.

       7             The health department gets involved and they

       8      will ask us for an irrigation-well permit.

       9             So we will issue the irrigation-well permit

      10      prior to the buildings being built.

      11             And, supposedly, perhaps there's going to be

      12      a plat of land that's 10 feet-by-12 feet that's

      13      going to need an irrigation well.

      14             We approve the irrigation well, the building

      15      goes up, and, lo and behold, there is no plat of

      16      land of grass, of trees, that requires an irrigation

      17      well.

      18             However, our program manager will get a call

      19      from Suez Water, saying, Hey, we have eight units at

      20      such-and-such location where there is no water

      21      usage, and yet we have eight accounts.

      22             When we go out, we find that the irrigation

      23      well has been connected, through piping during the

      24      building process, to eight of the units.

      25             And inside each unit there will be a switch


       1      where they can switch from Suez Water to the

       2      irrigation well.

       3             The irrigation-well water has no chlorine

       4      residual, so they're not allowed to use that water.

       5             And we do find resistance with builders, with

       6      building inspectors, and even with the landlords of

       7      these properties, in trying to gain compliance.

       8             A very tricky situation.

       9             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Just one final question, if

      10      I may.

      11             You mentioned that you reach out to the --

      12      the Initiative reaches out to all five of the

      13      building departments when complaints are brought to

      14      your attention.

      15             Do all five reach out to you when complaints

      16      are brought to their attention?

      17             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  Yes.

      18             Not every single complaint, and not all that

      19      we would like, but, certainly, we reach out more to

      20      the building departments than they reach out to us.

      21             And that's something that we would

      22      appreciate, if the State could step in and say,

      23      Building Departments, you have to cooperate with

      24      your health department.

      25             That would be wonderful.


       1             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you.

       2             Senator Carlucci.

       3             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Thank you.

       4             Thank you for being here, and for the

       5      innovative work that you guys have done in the

       6      county.

       7             And so, with the Rockland Code Initiative,

       8      have you had conversations with the monitor that was

       9      in the town of Ramapo?

      10             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  No, I have not.

      11             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.  Do you know if the

      12      Rockland Code Initiative worked with them at all?

      13             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  No, we have not

      14      worked with them.

      15             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  You have not.  Okay.

      16             And is that the same with the monitor that's

      17      currently -- the building monitor currently in the

      18      village of Spring Valley?

      19             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  Yes, we have not

      20      worked with them.

      21             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  There's no working with

      22      them.

      23             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  No.

      24             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  The health department has

      25      not worked --


       1             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  No, the health

       2      department has not.

       3             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.

       4             Do you think that would be a valuable

       5      process, to have a relationship with the monitor

       6      from the department of state, with the health

       7      department?

       8             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  Absolutely.

       9             If there can be a liaison in any way, shape,

      10      or form, I think we should all work together.

      11             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  And so we know, we heard

      12      from Gordon Wren, talking about, that the Rockland

      13      Code Initiative has made some progress.

      14             And we see from the chart here, it seems like

      15      some of the -- the -- it seems like it's working,

      16      that the -- many of the complaints and violations

      17      have gone down.

      18             However, what are some of the major stumbling

      19      blocks in terms of what could help do your job even

      20      more?

      21             Now you say, to require the department of

      22      state to ask the building inspectors to cooperate

      23      with the department of health.

      24             How -- could you be more specific about that;

      25      what -- what exactly could the department of state


       1      do on that level?

       2             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  I think the

       3      department of state could, whether it's through

       4      legislation, or, however it would happen, to mandate

       5      that the building department works with the health

       6      department, provides information, has certificate of

       7      occupancies for all the properties, because, with

       8      multiple-dwelling rental registry, which has been a

       9      huge success for us, we require that the property

      10      owner submits a certificate of occupancy.

      11             And we're finding a stumbling block there,

      12      that oftentimes they don't have one.

      13             So they want to comply with us, they don't

      14      want to be in violation, but they can't get their

      15      certificate of occupancy.

      16             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Well -- and now we see the

      17      fines assessed.

      18             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  Yes.

      19             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  It looks like a total of,

      20      what, about $1.8 million since the RCI was formed?

      21             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  Yes.

      22             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  And do you know how much

      23      of the fines have actually been collected?

      24             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  I can't give you

      25      a precise figure, but I would say that,


       1      approximately, one-third of the fines are actually

       2      collected, with the exception of the past year.

       3             We're collecting probably two-thirds of the

       4      fine now, because we're off -- fines now, because

       5      we're offering stipulations, and people are more apt

       6      to pay $10,000 than $40,000.

       7             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  And just to be clear,

       8      these fines on this graph, where we talk about the

       9      1.8 million -- or, actually, 1.7 million, are those

      10      fines going to the department of health or to the

      11      respective towns?

      12             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  No, those fines

      13      are going to the department of health, yes --

      14             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.

      15             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  -- yes.

      16             And we do have collections also.

      17             So we work with our department of law, with

      18      an attorney there, who does collections through

      19      Rockland County Court.  And, also, our sheriff's

      20      department is very involved.

      21             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.  Thank you.

      22             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Senator Biaggi.

      23             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Thank you.

      24             My question is simply operational, because

      25      I think that what you're doing should be replicated


       1      across the entire state, in every single county,

       2      actually.

       3             Can you just, if you know, off of the top of

       4      your head, the cost of the operation to do something

       5      like this, let's say, and replicate this in other

       6      places?

       7             And how many people are on staff?

       8             And how long it took to get it up and

       9      running?

      10             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  Okay.

      11             So it got up and running pretty quickly.

      12             Right now we have, as I said before, one

      13      program manager, we have two supervisors, we have

      14      six inspectors.

      15             And this is civil service, so, of course,

      16      the -- somebody starts as an inspector, a Public

      17      Health Technician I, and the base salary for that is

      18      $49,002.

      19             And then they would be a supervisor, as a

      20      Public Health Tech II.

      21             And they would be program manager, as a

      22      Public Health Sanitarian.

      23             But it's all promotional, and I think that's

      24      key also, to give people the incentive.

      25             We also have support staff, so we have a


       1      program specialist, an environmental health

       2      assistant, clerical.

       3             And then we have a Healthy Neighborhoods

       4      program, which has two individuals who work in that

       5      program.

       6             So a total of 14.

       7             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Okay.

       8             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  We need more,

       9      that's for sure.

      10             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Sure.

      11             How long did it take to get it up and

      12      running?  A year?

      13             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  We were up and

      14      running, I would say, within -- the kickoff was

      15      April 30th of 2015, and we were up and running

      16      April 30th of 2015.

      17             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Wow.

      18             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  We had a housing

      19      program.  As I said, it had been a large housing

      20      program 32 years ago, when I started, with

      21      8 inspectors.  But it had been diminished by 2013 to

      22      only two inspectors.

      23             And so now we've, you know, tripled that.

      24             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Great.

      25             Would you be willing to go to, or have you


       1      traveled to, other counties to talk about what you

       2      do?

       3             CATHERINE JOHNSON SOUTHERN:  I'd be willing

       4      to travel to other counties, for sure.

       5             I have not yet traveled to other counties,

       6      but I've had a few counties call me and ask me what

       7      we do.

       8             And I've spoken with them at length, and

       9      they're exhausted, and they say, It sounds great,

      10      but how do you do it?

      11             I say, You just do it.

      12             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Right.

      13             Well, I invite you to Westchester County,

      14      where I represent a small portion in the Lower

      15      Hudson Valley.

      16             Thank you very much for being here.

      17             LAURA FELTS:  Thank you.

      18             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you very much for

      19      your testimony.

      20             Next we'll have the Town of Ramapo,

      21      Supervisor Michael Specht and Town Attorney

      22      Dennis Lynch.

      23             Thank you, and welcome.

      24             If you may, raise your right hands.

      25             Do you solemnly swear that you will tell the


       1      truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,

       2      so help you God?

       3             MICHAEL SPECHT:  I do.

       4             DENNIS LYNCH:  I do.

       5             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you.

       6             Please proceed.

       7             MICHAEL SPECHT:  Thank you, Chairman Skoufis,

       8      Senators.

       9             My name is Michael Specht.

      10             I am the supervisor of the town of Ramapo,

      11      and have been since January 2018.

      12             Thank you for affording me the opportunity to

      13      speak at this hearing.

      14             The town of Ramapo is going through a

      15      transformation.

      16             We have seen our population increase as we

      17      become one of the fastest-growing towns in the

      18      state, if not the nation.

      19             We are proud of the growth of our community

      20      and of its great ethnic, racial, and religious

      21      diversity.

      22             With this growth and transformation comes

      23      challenges.

      24             As we watch our neighborhoods grow and

      25      prosper, the safety and security of all of our


       1      residents, visitors, and first responders remains

       2      our top priority.  This includes making sure that we

       3      have an efficient, effective, and proactive building

       4      department.

       5             When I was elected supervisor by the

       6      residents of the town of Ramapo, I vowed to work

       7      with our dedicated Town employees to make the needed

       8      changes.

       9             That is what we have done, and that is what

      10      New York State has confirmed that we have done.

      11             This has not always been the case.

      12             In 2016, prior to my administration, the

      13      department of state, after an investigation,

      14      determined that the Town's enforcement and

      15      administration of the State Uniform Fire Prevention

      16      and Building Code did not substantially comply with

      17      the minimum standards required by the State.

      18             As a result, an oversight monitor was

      19      assigned to work with and supervise the Town's

      20      progress in this area.

      21             After two years, in December 2018, at the

      22      close of my first year in office, the State

      23      determined that our code enforcement and

      24      administration had materially improved, and that we

      25      now substantially comply with the standards.


       1             As a result, oversight was discontinued.

       2             A report was issued, detailing the progress

       3      the Town had made in various aspects, including

       4      inspections, issuing permits and certificates of

       5      occupancy, recordkeeping, training, and enforcement.

       6             While I am certainly proud that the State has

       7      determined that our practices are now acceptable,

       8      I am not content to rest with being just good enough

       9      or meeting minimal standards.

      10             We seek to always enhance and improve our

      11      work in this area so as to minimize any safety

      12      threat to our residents and first responders.

      13             We are meeting this challenge by implementing

      14      new procedures and hiring additional personnel, and

      15      investing in state-of-the-art equipment and

      16      software.

      17             It is the Town's policy that complaints are

      18      responded to promptly.

      19             If the complaint alleges a potential fire

      20      safety violation, it is responded to immediately.

      21             If a violation is found, we take action.

      22             A notice of violation, specifying the details

      23      of the violation, is issued to the occupant or

      24      owner, with the demand that the conditions be

      25      remedied.


       1             In all serious cases, an appearance ticket is

       2      also issued, compelling the violator to appear in

       3      the Town's Justice Court.

       4             The Town attorney's office then works with

       5      the code-enforcement personnel to draft and file the

       6      accusatory instruments in court.

       7             If the fire inspector or building inspector

       8      determines that the violation presents an imminent

       9      danger to life or safety, he will recommend to me

      10      that the Town board authorize the Town attorney's

      11      office to bring an action for an injunction in

      12      Supreme Court.

      13             The Town board will then vote to authorize

      14      the injunction, and in every instance in which an

      15      injunction was requested, it was authorized.

      16             In all cases we seek compliance with the law.

      17             In cases which were prosecuted in court, any

      18      disposition takes into account whether the offender

      19      has a prior history of violations, and how

      20      cooperative they were in remedying the unlawful

      21      conditions.

      22             One new policy that we have implemented this

      23      year is that, whenever a case is resolved in court,

      24      the Town attorney's office will require, as a

      25      condition, that the property owner consent to


       1      additional inspections for a period of time after

       2      the case is closed to confirm that the property

       3      remains in compliance.

       4             All Town departments work together in

       5      reporting potentially unsafe or illegal conditions

       6      to the building department, including our police

       7      department and our assessor's office.

       8             We have restructured the building department

       9      so that zoning and planning matters are handled by a

      10      professional planner, and so that the building

      11      inspector can focus on permits, inspections, and

      12      enforcement.

      13             We have hired additional building inspectors,

      14      fire inspectors, and plan reviewers.  And just last

      15      night, voted to hire an additional part-time fire

      16      safety inspector.

      17             All of our fire safety personnel are, in

      18      addition, dedicated volunteer firefighters in their

      19      spare time.

      20             Do we make mistakes?

      21             Are there oversights and errors in judgment?

      22             Is there room for constructive criticism?

      23             Yes.

      24             Are we able and willing to learn from our

      25      mistakes and strive towards best practices?


       1             Yes.

       2             We learned from the period of State oversight

       3      how to improve our practices and procedures.

       4             We look forward to any recommendations and

       5      insight this committee will offer as well.

       6             As one example, we have been less than

       7      satisfied with the software system we use for record

       8      management.

       9             Mr. Mazzariello, when he visited the town

      10      during the course of his investigation, made some

      11      recommendations for alternative platforms that we

      12      are now exploring.

      13             We have also hired an information technology

      14      director to fill a post that had been vacant for

      15      several years, and we have tasked him with improving

      16      and upgrading our systems.

      17             Within two weeks of taking office in

      18      January of 2018, I reached out to the various

      19      individuals and organizations critical of Town

      20      policies, including the Rockland County Illegal

      21      Housing Task Force, and I attended a meeting of the

      22      task force.

      23             I emphasized that my door would always be

      24      open to anyone who wished to discuss any issue of

      25      concern within the town.


       1             I also announced that I wished to revive the

       2      Town bureau of fire prevention, which had been

       3      inactive for many years, and have the various fire

       4      departments within the town nominate members to

       5      serve on it, for the purpose of meeting regularly

       6      with building department officials, in order to

       7      advise and aid in working towards greater fire

       8      safety.

       9             In February of 2018 I sent a letter to all of

      10      the fire chiefs within the unincorporated town,

      11      asking for nominations to the bureau.

      12             I wrote, "That it is my sincere wish that the

      13      existence and operation of the bureau of fire

      14      prevention will foster greater communication and

      15      cooperation between the town government and the fire

      16      services, leading to enhanced safety for our

      17      firefighters, responders, and our residents."

      18             Receiving no response to my letter, I sent a

      19      follow-up in March, again with no response.

      20             Likewise, at that time, I invited all of the

      21      fire departments to suggest members to be appointed

      22      to the Town's planning board and zoning board of

      23      appeals.  This offer too met with no response.

      24             However, my door continues to be open to all,

      25      including all emergency services personnel.


       1             As this committee considers ways to improve

       2      code enforcement, I would respectfully recommend

       3      that you consider legislation that will allow code

       4      violations in the town to be prosecuted at an

       5      administrative hearing, to allow for an expedited

       6      and streamlined process in a way that advances

       7      public safety and compliance with the law without

       8      sacrificing due process.

       9             Once again, I thank you for your time, and

      10      I welcome any questions that you may have.

      11             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you very much for

      12      your testimony.

      13             And I appreciate you and your Town's

      14      cooperation over these past number of months with

      15      the committee.

      16             As I'm sure you know, and it's been mentioned

      17      a number of times, the importance of code

      18      enforcement and what we're talking about here is

      19      evident, as recently as this week, in the town of

      20      Ramapo, with what happened with very -- two very

      21      young girls who nearly drowned.

      22             As has been also noted, it is very difficult

      23      to enforce, you know, single-family homes due to

      24      privacy reasons, et cetera.

      25             But, it does reinforce just how essential


       1      this issue is.

       2             I want to jump right into it here.

       3             So if my staff can put up Exhibit C, which is

       4      a non-public, a private school, on Route 306 in the

       5      town of Ramapo.

       6             I know it's been the subject of -- of some of

       7      tension over the years.

       8             Nine violations were issued on February 26,

       9      2018, ranging from, problems with the water system;

      10      ceiling clearance; problems with the fire alarm

      11      system; issues with insulation and maintenance of

      12      electrical equipment; means of egress, getting in

      13      and out safely of the school.

      14             These were violations that were issued.

      15             Then, however, the certificate of occupancy

      16      expired for this school, actually, previous to those

      17      violations, on September 30, 2017.

      18             And Rockland County Supreme Court

      19      Justice Paul Mark held that, "The Town of Ramapo has

      20      an obligation to ensure and enforce compliance with

      21      its laws, and are entitled to judgment, in join" --

      22      "judgment, in joining defense, from all use and

      23      occupancy of the premises, except in conformity with

      24      a valid certificate."

      25             So, basically, the Court granted you the


       1      opportunity to shut this school down.

       2             My understanding is that you have not in the

       3      number of years since that authority was granted to

       4      the Town.

       5             Many believe that the students are attending

       6      that school in unsafe conditions.

       7             Can you explain why the Town has not taken up

       8      the Court on your new authority?

       9             MICHAEL SPECHT:  Yes.

      10             First of all, the Court issued that order in

      11      the fall of 2018, so it hasn't been years, it's been

      12      months.

      13             But, either way, we brought the original

      14      injunction action in early 2018 because our fire

      15      inspector and building inspector determined that

      16      there were unsafe conditions at the site.

      17             There were also zoning violations because

      18      their CO had lapsed, and they had not gone through

      19      the complete process to get an approval.

      20             The fire safety violations were at some point

      21      cured.

      22             That was our first concern.

      23             Our concern was the safety of the students,

      24      the safety of anybody who might have to respond to

      25      that site.


       1             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  At what point?

       2             Sorry to interrupt.

       3             MICHAEL SPECHT:  At what point was it cured?

       4             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Yes.

       5             MICHAEL SPECHT:  It was -- I'm going by

       6      memory here, I'm sorry, but I believe it was cured

       7      sometime in the spring or summer.

       8             There was a reinspection in the summer, found

       9      additional violations.

      10             Those were cured fairly quickly.  They

      11      weren't as major as the previous ones.

      12             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  So the CO expired in the

      13      fall of the previous year, and they were cured in

      14      the spring or summer of the following year, which

      15      begs the question, how could the school operate for

      16      that long?

      17             I mean, that's, basically, a full school

      18      year, right, without curing, and the Town not taking

      19      any action.

      20             MICHAEL SPECHT:  Well, we have to distinguish

      21      between a zoning violation and a safety violation or

      22      a code violation.

      23             This school came to being legally.  It

      24      applied for a CO under a law that we had at the

      25      time, that was since repealed, which allowed the


       1      building inspector to issue a temporary permit for

       2      modular units on a school that would last for up to

       3      two years.

       4             After the school received its permits, at

       5      some point in time, the Town board repealed that

       6      law, found that it was not a -- working the way it

       7      should have been working.

       8             Repealed it, and the school CO lapsed, and

       9      they were not able to get a renewal.

      10             They needed to go to the planning board to

      11      get a site plan approved.

      12             And in order to do that, because of the shape

      13      and the layout and the size of the lot, they needed

      14      to get area variances from the zoning board.

      15             They went to the zoning board at one point

      16      last year, and were denied the variances.

      17             Again, our concern was to make sure that it

      18      was compliant with State code, there was compliance

      19      with safety issues, and, that was accomplished.

      20             The zoning violation continued on.

      21             They -- in the fall they went back to the

      22      zoning board, under revised application, seeking

      23      lesser variances, and the zoning board approved

      24      them.

      25             They then applied to the planning board.


       1             At that point, since they have every -- we

       2      have every reason to believe they will

       3      (indiscernible) -- at some point be approved and

       4      become legalized, and that the only thing holding

       5      them up is their need to go through the entire

       6      process, we made the decision not to evict the

       7      students, who were mostly young girls, from the

       8      site.

       9             The main concern that I had was, knowing from

      10      past experience, that if these -- if this school was

      11      closed down while it was finally now safe and on the

      12      road to compliance, they would probably be located

      13      in other sites that we weren't aware of, that were

      14      not safe, or were potentially not safe, and were not

      15      legal as well.

      16             So, it was a balancing of the -- what would

      17      be the appropriate response, and that was to keep

      18      the school -- allow the school to remain open, as

      19      long as they were safe, as long as they permitted

      20      regular inspections by our staff, and as long as

      21      they were working toward getting their final CO,

      22      which they have been.

      23             So --

      24             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  I appreciate your response.

      25             So I'll just -- from my perspective, at


       1      least, you know, the prospect of students, you know,

       2      not, sort of, coming down on the school that is

       3      unsafe, because the prospect those students might be

       4      attending -- or, sent to other schools that are also

       5      unsafe, is not really a valid reason, in my mind, to

       6      not move forward with proper enforcement.

       7             And, quite frankly --

       8             DENNIS LYNCH:  (Inaudible.)

       9             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Well, let me -- if I could

      10      just finish.

      11             -- you know, the Town should be aware of

      12      those others schools that may be unsafe as well.

      13             Yes, go ahead, very briefly.

      14             DENNIS LYNCH:  My point is, and, again, I --

      15      I -- I wasn't -- didn't have a chance to give my

      16      opening statement, but, responding to your

      17      particular point, what's happened frequently is

      18      zoning issues are confused with State building code

      19      issues.

      20             The Town was satisfied that there was no

      21      issue of safety under the State building code.

      22             The fact that there was zoning code

      23      violations is totally separate from what

      24      I understand this committee is looking at.

      25             I have specific suggestions with regard to


       1      how the committee can improve it.

       2             For example, Town Law, Section 268, allows

       3      for taxpayers to bring claims or bring lawsuits for

       4      zoning violations, but not for code violations.

       5             You could change that.

       6             The Uniform Justice Court allows, under

       7      Section 209, for Provisional Remedies, with regard

       8      to recovering chattel, a replevin action.  But not

       9      to go into a place where you can have an order to

      10      show cause and act quickly in the Justice Court.

      11             So, I mean, some of those issues, if they're

      12      safety issues, there's mechanisms, which I submit to

      13      this committee, are two specific examples:  Town

      14      Law, Section 268.  Uniform Justice Act, Section 209.

      15             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay, thank you.

      16             I want to let my colleagues get to their

      17      questions, but I -- if I may just offer a battery

      18      here, and just, sort of, precise answers, succinct

      19      answers.

      20             How often does your housing court meet?

      21             MICHAEL SPECHT:  We meet, approximately, once

      22      every three weeks.

      23             We don't have a dedicated housing court.  We

      24      have a Town Justice Court.

      25             The Town judge/justices hear code-violation


       1      cases once every three weeks.

       2             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.  That seems to be --

       3             DENNIS LYNCH:  If we go to the Supreme Court,

       4      we don't have to wait for the Justice Court calendar

       5      to be reached.

       6             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

       7             -- once every three weeks does seem to far

       8      less frequent than a lot of the other

       9      municipalities --

      10             DENNIS LYNCH:  Maybe the State --

      11             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  -- (indiscernible) every

      12      other (indiscernible cross-talking).

      13             DENNIS LYNCH:  Maybe the State can get us

      14      more funding so we can meet more frequently.

      15             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  City of Newburgh,

      16      I believe, meets once a week, if I'm not mistaken --

      17             MICHAEL SPECHT:  I would agree with you --

      18             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  -- (indiscernible

      19      cross-talking) --

      20             MICHAEL SPECHT:  -- and that's an improvement

      21      we would like to see happen, with the Court's

      22      cooperation.

      23             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      24             Town of Ramapo, let's see, department of

      25      state requires that every city, village, town, and


       1      county charged with administration and enforcement

       2      of the uniform code submit an annual report of its

       3      activities to the secretary of state to check for

       4      compliance.

       5             Has the Town of Ramapo sent that annual

       6      report, 2014, '15, '16, '17, and '18?

       7             MICHAEL SPECHT:  To my knowledge we have.

       8             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

       9             Under Town Code 376-140, enforcement

      10      officials are required to make any reports required

      11      by the Town board.

      12             Has the Town board required any reports of

      13      code-enforcement officials during your

      14      administration?

      15             MICHAEL SPECHT:  We have asked the Town --

      16      the building inspector and the fire inspector to

      17      report if there is a condition that we think would

      18      need injunctive relief, or some other remedy outside

      19      of the normal code enforcement process.

      20             DENNIS LYNCH:  And, also, the State

      21      committee -- the State investigation that did the

      22      report, made recommendations for regular meetings

      23      with the building inspector and staff.

      24             That's being done.

      25             And if there's anything that happens, we just


       1      had an example, about, I'd say four weeks ago, where

       2      there was a need to go to Supreme Court quickly.

       3             The building inspector immediately made the

       4      recommendation to the Town board, and the Town board

       5      voted to go to Supreme Court.

       6             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  So how many times has the

       7      board requested reports for specific cases, because

       8      that's what you're talking about here?

       9             MICHAEL SPECHT:  Right.

      10             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  And how many times have you

      11      requested a general report, a quarterly report, an

      12      annual report, about what's going on with code

      13      enforcement?

      14             MICHAEL SPECHT:  Since I've been supervisor,

      15      I would say -- specific sites, I would say about a

      16      half a dozen times.

      17             And, annual or quarterly reports, I don't

      18      believe the board has requested that.

      19             I will meet -- I meet with the building

      20      department officials on a regular basis, I get that

      21      information.

      22             But, no, the board has not requested it.

      23             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      24             Has the Town ever not enforced the expiration

      25      of a building-permit application after 180 days if


       1      the permit is not issued or an extension granted in

       2      writing?

       3             MICHAEL SPECHT:  Not to my knowledge.

       4             I can't speak to every building permit.

       5             If there were oversights or mistakes, I can't

       6      answer that.

       7             But that would not be the policy.

       8             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

       9             Has the Town ever not enforced the expiration

      10      of a building permit after 180 days when work has

      11      not commenced or 90-day extensions have been granted

      12      in writing?

      13             MICHAEL SPECHT:  I'm not aware.

      14             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      15             Has a Town building official ever suspended

      16      or revoked a permit issued in error based on

      17      incorrect, inaccurate, or incomplete information by

      18      the applicant?

      19             DENNIS LYNCH:  Mr. Chairman, if we knew these

      20      questions ahead of time, we could give you the

      21      answers on the spot.

      22             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Well, if you don't know

      23      them now, then we can follow up with --

      24             MICHAEL SPECHT:  We'd be happy to send

      25      (indiscernible cross-talking) --


       1             DENNIS LYNCH:  Oh, certainly, we'd be happy

       2      to follow up on them.

       3             MICHAEL SPECHT:  Absolutely.

       4             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  But you're not aware of

       5      any --

       6             MICHAEL SPECHT:  I'm not aware.

       7             I know the building department has, just

       8      recently, the building inspector revoked a

       9      certificate of occupancy.

      10             Revoking a permit, I'd have to find that out.

      11             DENNIS LYNCH:  And we'll follow up with a

      12      written response to your questions, Chairman.

      13             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Has the Town ever issued

      14      partial permits for site plans?

      15             MICHAEL SPECHT:  We have done that.

      16             We've been advised that, while there is no

      17      prohibition in the State code, we would need a local

      18      law to do so.

      19             So we have actually scheduled a hearing for

      20      June, for -- a public hearing, for a proposed local

      21      law, amending our code to allow that.

      22             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      23             Especially given that you're -- you deal with

      24      these housing issues in court once every three

      25      weeks, which is quite a lengthy period of time


       1      compared to other places we've looked, I think --

       2      I do need to ask about, sort of, the duration of

       3      these violations, how long they languish in court in

       4      Ramapo.

       5             Can you -- do you know what the longest

       6      violations have been in housing court?

       7             MICHAEL SPECHT:  I don't --

       8             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  And can you speak to these

       9      motions to adjourn, right?

      10             So we heard from the City of Newburgh,

      11      they've recently issued a warrant for a

      12      non-appearance from a landlord.

      13             Have you ever issued warrants?

      14             MICHAEL SPECHT:  Yes, we have.

      15             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  How recently?

      16             MICHAEL SPECHT:  I would say --

      17             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  How often?

      18             MICHAEL SPECHT:  -- well, I would say,

      19      probably, within the last month warrants have been

      20      issued, bench warrants or arrest warrants.

      21             One of the problems that we've had in the

      22      past, that we believe we found a partial solution

      23      toward, without a birthdate for the defendant, the

      24      Court would not issue a warrant because it would be

      25      unenforceable, for fear of arresting the wrong


       1      person.

       2             What we do now, the building inspector

       3      requires, anytime somebody applies for a building

       4      permit, that a photocopy of their driver's license

       5      be provided as well, so, that way, at least we have

       6      somebody accountable, and, if need be, we have the

       7      pedigree information to issue a warrant.

       8             It doesn't help in situations, obviously,

       9      where somebody commits a violation without first

      10      seeking a permit, but it helps in situations where

      11      something starts out lawfully and then goes beyond

      12      that.

      13             DENNIS LYNCH:  And we thank your chief

      14      investigator who gave the recommendation about dates

      15      of birth.

      16             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      17             MICHAEL SPECHT:  Uh-huh.

      18             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  We heard from Mr. Wren

      19      before, that, in his conversations, he believes that

      20      there was undue political influence placed on state

      21      agencies, other actors here, vis-a-vis the Town of

      22      Ramapo.

      23             Have you or anyone in town hall, since you've

      24      been on the Town board, made phone calls like that,

      25      had conversations like that, with either other


       1      elected the officials, state agencies, stakeholders,

       2      the monitor?

       3             Have you been engaged in anything like that?

       4             MICHAEL SPECHT:  Absolutely not.

       5             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

       6             Are you aware of others --

       7             MICHAEL SPECHT:  Not to my knowledge --

       8             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  -- on your Town board

       9      (indiscernible cross-talking).

      10             MICHAEL SPECHT:  -- no one that I'm aware of,

      11      nor would I -- would I accept that from anybody on

      12      the board.

      13             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      14             And my last question for now:

      15             We've heard a lot of LLCs.

      16             There -- we've experienced a proliferation of

      17      LLCs in the town of Ramapo in the few months that

      18      we've been looking.

      19             And, you know, we've heard some strategies

      20      from other municipalities.

      21             For example, you know, registries.

      22             The County now has a registry where they're

      23      slowly being able to sort of identify owners of

      24      these LLCs.

      25             What steps have you taken as a town, given


       1      the enormous, I would call, problem with LLCs and

       2      their anonymity, to identify who is actually behind

       3      these LLCs, and so when there are issues with a

       4      property, you are able to take action?

       5             DENNIS LYNCH:  Can I respond to that?

       6             One of the suggestions your chief

       7      investigator said was, that your committee may make

       8      a recommendation that New York State law be changed

       9      to have requirements for disclosures of LLC members,

      10      and even if its transferred.

      11             We would welcome that.

      12             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  And so, yes, that's my

      13      bill, and I obviously support my own bill.

      14             But, the Town of Monroe, for example, here in

      15      Orange County, they actually don't offer local

      16      approvals for any applicants that come to them as an

      17      LLC, until they get the ownership information of

      18      that LLC.

      19             So things -- steps can be taken before state

      20      legislation is enacted.

      21             Have you done anything?

      22             MICHAEL SPECHT:  Well, one thing we have

      23      done, as I mentioned a little earlier, is we now

      24      require anyone applying for a building permit, even

      25      if it's on behalf of an LLC, to have somebody accept


       1      responsibility and give a driver's license.

       2             I had a very irate builder come to my office

       3      and complain how unfair, because it was an LLC and

       4      an LLC can't have a driver's license.

       5             And my explanation was, whoever is going to

       6      accept responsibility and wants the permit -- to

       7      receive that permit will have to give the building

       8      inspector a license.

       9             That's one thing that we've done.

      10             Another thing we've done is that, our

      11      prosecutor in court will ask for default judgments,

      12      under the law.

      13             And LLC or a corporation must appear in court

      14      by an attorney on a criminal matter.

      15             If the LLC does not appear, or, does not

      16      appear by an attorney, within a reasonable amount of

      17      time, she will file motions for a default judgment.

      18             I believe she has seven or eight motions

      19      pending right now.

      20             And once the default judgment is issued, we

      21      then ask the Court to convert it into a civil

      22      judgment, so we can file it with the county clerk's

      23      office, it remains a lien on the property, so that

      24      when that property, if a builder is building a

      25      prop -- you know, a building, developing a parcel,


       1      with the intention to sell it or transfer it, we

       2      will have a lien that will, presumably, be paid at

       3      some point in time when they're ready to sell it.

       4             So it's not the most ideal solution, but it's

       5      the one we've been able to come up with so far.

       6             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

       7             Thank you.

       8             Senator Carlucci.

       9             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Thank you.

      10             Thank you, Supervisor and Town Attorney, for

      11      being here today.

      12             And, you know, we've -- obviously, we've had

      13      a lot of concerns, particularly in Ramapo.

      14             And, unfortunately, the perception is, and

      15      I -- and you had mentioned that you had inherited a

      16      situation, but it seems to still be the perception

      17      that there's this culture of, build first, ask for

      18      permission later.

      19             And it seems like that's gone on again and

      20      again.

      21             And what could you -- what do you say about

      22      that, and is that continuing?

      23             DENNIS LYNCH:  May I respond?

      24             If you had come to a Town board -- to a

      25      planning board meeting, I haven't seen you there in


       1      quite a while, you would know that's not what's

       2      happened.

       3             That may be the perception, but it's in the

       4      reality.

       5             MICHAEL SPECHT:  Well, I would also just add,

       6      I think we have been increasing our enforcement

       7      efforts lately.

       8             Just to give some numbers:

       9             In 2017 and 2018, we had a combined total of

      10      about 350 cases in court.

      11             2019, year to date, and we're a little less

      12      than halfway done with the year, we're at 149.

      13             So if that continues, we'll have over

      14      300 cases just for this year alone, instead of

      15      350 for 2 years.

      16             So I think we have stepped up the level of

      17      enforcement.

      18             We have a new prosecutor who started a few

      19      months ago.

      20             And we also have a new judge in the Justice

      21      Court.

      22             And I think the two of them make a good team.

      23             Obviously, there's a separation of powers,

      24      but they make a good team in terms of moving the

      25      calendar, not having cases linger as long as they


       1      have.

       2             Chairman Skoufis, you asked earlier, I didn't

       3      respond at that time, but there were cases that

       4      lingered for one to two years or more.

       5             Sometimes that is the result of the fact that

       6      we're waiting for someone to go through the process,

       7      get variances, and get a site-plan approval.

       8             That can be a two- or three-year process.

       9             So, to some degree, if we're going to wait

      10      till the case is fully disposed of in the

      11      administrative part before we can dispose of it

      12      judicially, there will be a delay.

      13             But, other cases, there have been repeated

      14      adjournments by the defendant.

      15             And our attorneys have been objecting to

      16      those requests when they've been unreasonable.

      17             And the Court, I believe, now, lately, has

      18      been scheduling trials quicker, and forcing cases to

      19      come into a disposition much more promptly.

      20             DENNIS LYNCH:  If I could supplement that,

      21      Senator Carlucci, again, zoning code versus building

      22      code.

      23             Zoning codes are democratically enacted by

      24      local legislatures, as you know, of the towns, and

      25      the towns democratically determine what they do.


       1             We had a complaint from Mr. Wren that the

       2      buildings were too close together.

       3             Well, it was pursuant to the code -- State

       4      building code, but also our zoning code allows it.

       5             So, I mean, again, zoning is unique to a

       6      town, the Town can do what they want.

       7             But, obviously, your building codes,

       8      statewide, must be complied with.

       9             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Now, this exhibit right

      10      here is -- now you're saying that this is compliant

      11      with State code?

      12             DENNIS LYNCH:  No, I'm answering your

      13      question about the perception of build, build,

      14      build.

      15             What I'm telling you, in this particular

      16      case, is that particular matter was in court.

      17             But if you're talking about overbuilding,

      18      that's a zoning issue, not a code issue.

      19             MICHAEL SPECHT:  I just have to ask when that

      20      photograph was taken?

      21             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  I'm not sure it is -- when

      22      this photograph was taken?

      23             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  You can -- you can -- just,

      24      when was it taken, the photo; do you know?

      25             MICHAEL MAZZARIELLO:  When?


       1             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Yes, when.

       2             MICHAEL MAZZARIELLO:  Not even a month and a

       3      half, two months ago.

       4             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Month and a half,

       5      two months ago.

       6             DENNIS LYNCH:  Probably with a ride-along,

       7      when we cooperated with your investigator, and took

       8      him to every place in Ramapo that he wanted to go.

       9             MICHAEL SPECHT:  It appears that, from what

      10      I see in the photograph, there's a lot of debris on

      11      the property.

      12             I can't speak as to its condition right now.

      13             It's certainly something that we would

      14      inspect if we saw that.

      15             And we have a -- two new initiatives:

      16             One, with our prosecutor, to hold property

      17      owners accountable for property maintenance, and

      18      littering conditions, through enhanced prosecution.

      19             We've had some zombie properties that were in

      20      foreclosure, that we've had the banks clean up

      21      successfully.

      22             We also have created a new unit within the

      23      town for cleanup, which cleans up within a

      24      right-of-way, but in issues of violations and

      25      summonses on private property.


       1             And that just started last month, and that's

       2      had some success.

       3             So, certainly, if this is a current

       4      condition, we would have it looked at.

       5             I can't speak as to anything beyond that.

       6             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.

       7             And we've heard from municipalities where, if

       8      that is the case, where they build first, ask later,

       9      that, not only will they be hit with a fine, but

      10      they'll have to rescind the work or take the work

      11      out.

      12             Have you had examples of that in Ramapo,

      13      where there have been cases where people have built

      14      before getting proper permits, and you've required

      15      them to take what work has been done, out?

      16             MICHAEL SPECHT:  That has happened.

      17             Generally, what the building department will

      18      do, if they build something that could be up to

      19      code, could be approved, could get a building permit

      20      or CO, depending on what it is, they will give them

      21      an opportunity to do so.

      22             However, if it's something that is clearly

      23      not permitted, either under a zoning law, a rooming

      24      house, for example, with individual locked bedrooms,

      25      single-room occupancy doors, or something not


       1      permitted under code, then they would have to remove

       2      it, and that's been done too.

       3             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  It has been done --

       4             MICHAEL SPECHT:  It has been done.

       5             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  -- and you could provide

       6      some examples (indiscernible cross-talking) --

       7             MICHAEL SPECHT:  Interior partition walls

       8      have been removed.

       9             We have forced entrances to -- if an illegal

      10      apartment is created in the basement, we've removed

      11      any barriers that separate the basement apartment

      12      from the rest of the house and made it one dwelling

      13      unit.

      14             We have asked that kitchens that have been

      15      installed illegally be removed, things like that.

      16             So it does happen.

      17             DENNIS LYNCH:  The Town is very much aware,

      18      Senator, under the case of Parkview Associates

      19      versus the City of New York, which took down about

      20      20 stories of building, that they had the right to

      21      take down property and order that if there's a

      22      violation.

      23             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Right, and I'm just asking

      24      for examples of that in the town of Ramapo.

      25             MICHAEL SPECHT:  Generally, a lot of our


       1      violations will occur, where you have a family that

       2      will add a basement or apartment, or convert a

       3      garage, to have a little space to allow family

       4      members to move in.

       5             We're talking about families that have

       6      large -- you know, large members, and they will do

       7      that.

       8             And, in that case, if they can legally

       9      convert it to habitable space, it may be a question

      10      of making it an extra bedroom, that's legal, but not

      11      necessarily a separate apartment.

      12             Or, it may be a question of, if it's in the

      13      right zone for it, to make it from a one- to a two-

      14      or three-family house, but they have to go through

      15      the process.

      16             And if they can go through the process, and

      17      if they meet the State code, they meet the Town

      18      laws, then there's no reason why they can't be

      19      permitted to do that.

      20             Still leaves open the prosecution in

      21      Justice Court for committing the violation.

      22             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay, and we just heard

      23      from the Rockland County Department of Health, with

      24      the Rockland Codes Initiative.

      25             And they were responding to the Chairman's


       1      question about compliance and working with the

       2      municipalities.

       3             And it was stated, from the deputy county

       4      health commissioner, that the working relationship

       5      with the Town of Ramapo has been difficult and not

       6      forthcoming.

       7             Can you respond to that?

       8             MICHAEL SPECHT:  Well, I'm disappointed to

       9      hear that.

      10             I'm certainly open to improving our relations

      11      with any agency or any part of the county government

      12      or any other municipalities.

      13             I would be more than happy to meet either

      14      with the health department, or with the county

      15      executive or anyone from his office, to work out a

      16      better line of communication and ensure better

      17      communication between our building department staff

      18      and the county health department, absolutely.

      19             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.

      20             And now, with the State monitor that was in

      21      the town of Ramapo for a year, under

      22      Supervisor Specht's tenure --

      23             MICHAEL SPECHT:  Right.

      24             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  -- you know, we were

      25      concerned, when the Town -- when the monitor left,


       1      saying they left -- they were going to leave before

       2      they issued a report publically.

       3             And we talk about, and you've admitted, that

       4      there's still work to be done.

       5             Would you welcome the town -- a State monitor

       6      back in the Ramapo building department?

       7             MICHAEL SPECHT:  I don't believe it's needed.

       8             I believe that they've determined that we are

       9      able to fly on our own for now.

      10             But, at the same time, we have nothing to

      11      hide, and we never are looking to turn away from

      12      help from any level.

      13             So, while I don't believe it's needed, if

      14      that's the decision of the State, then we would

      15      welcome it, and we would cooperate and work with the

      16      monitor.

      17             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay, thank you.

      18             And we talked a little bit, you heard about,

      19      the recommendations from the staff of the

      20      investigations committee, about the software, and,

      21      I guess, the recordkeeping practice for the building

      22      department in the town of Ramapo.

      23             What are the mechanisms that you plan to

      24      implement to turn that around, to change it, to make

      25      the records more accessible?


       1             MICHAEL SPECHT:  Right now we use the

       2      Municity software system, and I know the building

       3      department staff has issues with it.

       4             They feel it's not very user-friendly.

       5             And it -- we have a problem, for example,

       6      pulling up an original certificate of occupancy from

       7      a property.  We have to go to the file to get the

       8      hard copy.

       9             We can pull up the information that was on

      10      the certificate of occupancy, but we can't pull up a

      11      digital one and print it.

      12             So we're looking at doing two things.

      13             One is, looking at alternative software that

      14      was recommended, and we appreciate that advice.

      15             And we have our IT director looking into

      16      that.  And if he finds something he thinks meets our

      17      needs, the Town board will authorize entering into a

      18      license to use it, and training our employees to use

      19      it properly.

      20             The other thing that we're in the midst of

      21      doing, and it's a long-term project, but it's being

      22      done, we are scanning and digitizing all of the

      23      building department files, so that, eventually, we

      24      will have everything online in digital format, and

      25      we'll be able to pull up original building permits,


       1      original COs, make them accessible.

       2             Our long-term goal -- our immediate-term goal

       3      would be for the building department to use that.

       4             Longer-term goal with that -- for that, to be

       5      part of -- accessible through a portal for any

       6      member of the public as well as.

       7             DENNIS LYNCH:  One of the issues is

       8      transporting the old data from that old system to

       9      the new system.

      10             We would welcome State funding to help on

      11      that.

      12             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  And when we talk about

      13      funding, now, how many code-enforcement officers are

      14      there in the town of Ramapo right now?

      15             MICHAEL SPECHT:  We currently have nine

      16      people that do enforcement work, including building

      17      inspectors, assistant building inspectors, fire

      18      inspectors, code-enforcement officers, and plan

      19      reviewers.

      20             Last night we -- as a Town board, we voted to

      21      hire a new part-time fire safety inspector, a young

      22      man who's a member of a local fire department.  So,

      23      he has fire experience.

      24             He does not have fire inspection experience,

      25      but he'll go through the training, and we hope to


       1      get him certified and add to our resources.

       2             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.

       3             So is it fair to say you have nine full-time

       4      fire inspector, code-enforcement officer, building

       5      inspector, throughout the whole town?

       6             MICHAEL SPECHT:  That's correct.

       7             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  And now you're going to --

       8             MICHAEL SPECHT:  We'll have ten.

       9             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  -- with another -- well,

      10      ten, or a half?

      11             MICHAEL SPECHT:  Well, part-time.  Nine and a

      12      half.

      13             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.  And are all

      14      those -- those nine, are they full-time?

      15             MICHAEL SPECHT:  They are full-time, and

      16      they're all certified and up to date on training.

      17             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  And just so we know,

      18      because we heard from the City of Newburgh, which

      19      said they had about 6600 -- about 6500 units, and

      20      they have four full-time inspectors, and they claim

      21      that's far too little.

      22             How many units does the town of Ramapo have

      23      (indiscernible)?

      24             MICHAEL SPECHT:  In the unincorporated

      25      town -- and as you know, the town of Ramapo has


       1      12 villages within the town.

       2             So we only have jurisdiction for code

       3      enforcement and building matters over the

       4      unincorporated town.

       5             We have 8,000 buildings.

       6             We have about 9500 parcels, but the ones that

       7      have buildings on them are 8,000.

       8             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.  And would -- do you

       9      think that you're adequately equipped to handle the

      10      building that's going on in Ramapo with the current

      11      amount of code-enforcement workers you have?

      12             MICHAEL SPECHT:  I think with the current

      13      amount, and that includes, you know, we've added to

      14      our -- over the last two years, we've added to our

      15      staff, and with the new hire, we will be adequately

      16      equipped.

      17             Could we use more?

      18             I think we would, and we would still be open

      19      to recruit other inspectors.

      20             As you know, one of the advantages of hiring

      21      this young person part-time, was that we were able

      22      to avoid having to go through the county

      23      civil-service process, which, while it has its

      24      benefits, it also limits and prolongs how we can

      25      hire.


       1             So, part-time, there's less restrictions on

       2      it, but we're certainly would still be looking to

       3      increase.

       4             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.

       5             And the comment was made a couple times about

       6      funding, and asking the State possibly for funding,

       7      to help increase the improvements in terms of code

       8      enforcement.

       9             What would be your ask, that you're here on

      10      the record with the panel?

      11             What is the type of need that you need?

      12             Is it for the software importing out of an

      13      old program?

      14             Is it for code enforcement?

      15             DENNIS LYNCH:  We'd be happy --

      16             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Is it for --

      17             DENNIS LYNCH:  We'd be happy to give you a

      18      laundry list in the next 10 days with specific

      19      amounts.

      20             MICHAEL SPECHT:  But I think, certainly, at

      21      the top of the list would be for software, and for,

      22      as we said, transitioning the -- from one platform

      23      to another.

      24             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.

      25             Thank you.


       1             MICHAEL SPECHT:  Thank you.

       2             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Just one -- first, I want

       3      to introduce, we've been joined by a couple of

       4      senators, Senator Salazar and Senator Breslin.

       5             Thank you for joining us.

       6             Just one final question, as we close with

       7      your testimony, and I don't mean to ask this

       8      facetiously, but, over the, you know, last number of

       9      months we've seen very clearly that there are many

      10      residents and advocates and firefighters,

      11      stakeholders, who have very hard feelings about this

      12      in the town of Ramapo.

      13             I understand you believe you've made

      14      improvements.

      15             Do you owe an apology to those individuals,

      16      the stakeholders or residents, for what was done or

      17      not done in recent years?

      18             MICHAEL SPECHT:  I really wouldn't know how

      19      to answer that.

      20             Do you mean a personal apology?

      21             Does the Town owe an apology?

      22             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  From the Town -- on behalf

      23      of the Town.

      24             MICHAEL SPECHT:  I think that the Town has

      25      made mistakes over the years, and that's very


       1      evident.

       2             I think that we are doing our best to move

       3      beyond those and to institute best practices across

       4      the town.

       5             And I don't think it's a question of

       6      apologizing.

       7             I think it's a question of doing the right

       8      thing.

       9             And I would ask everybody to work with us,

      10      give us a little bit of good faith, and allow us to

      11      show what we can do as we keep improving.

      12             I think that is more valuable than whether we

      13      would need to apologize or not apologize to anybody.

      14             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      15             Thanks very much for your testimony.

      16             MICHAEL SPECHT:  Thank you.

      17             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you.

      18             And we're running up into the second hearing

      19      here, so everyone please be mindful of time.

      20             Next we have Mount Vernon, the City of

      21      Mount Vernon:  Mayor Thomas; Kim Knotts,

      22      Omondi Odera, housing inspectors; Theodore Beale,

      23      fire commissioner.

      24             Please have a seat.

      25             Before we get started, if you could raise


       1      your right hands.

       2             Do you solemnly swear that you will tell the

       3      truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,

       4      so help you God?

       5                (All witnesses say "Yes.")

       6             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you.

       7             Please proceed.

       8             MAYOR RICHARD THOMAS:  Thank you,

       9      Senator/Chairman Skoufis.

      10             On behalf of the City of Mount Vernon,

      11      I would like to say thank you for the opportunity to

      12      appear, to talk with you and your committee about

      13      the importance of enhancing code enforcement.

      14             I want to thank our senator,

      15      Senator Allesandra Biaggi, for making sure that

      16      Mount Vernon is not only on the map, but a part of

      17      the conversation.

      18             It's very important that we recognize that

      19      code enforcement is life or death.

      20             And in Mount Vernon we have a shocking

      21      statistic, where 44 percent of our properties were

      22      involved in a fire incident.

      23             That's a huge number.

      24             And we want to make sure you know that the

      25      City is very grateful for your leadership on this


       1      matter.

       2             We desire to continue this conversation.

       3             And before we dive into a few of the things

       4      that we'd like to bring to your attention, I just

       5      want to introduce who is with me.

       6             To my right is Chantelle Okarter.  She is the

       7      commissioner of planning, as well as the executive

       8      director of the Urban Renewal Agency.

       9             To my left is the commissioner of fire, this

      10      is Teddy Beale.  He's been with the fire department

      11      for --

      12             How many years?

      13             THEODORE W. BEALE:  46.

      14             MAYOR RICHARD THOMAS:  -- 46 years.

      15             So we have a wealth of experience with us at

      16      the table.

      17             As well as, to my far right is Omondi Odera.

      18      He is the one, and only, inspector for the city of

      19      Mount Vernon, about 80,000 people, 4 square miles.

      20             It's ridiculous, I know.

      21             So in the correspondence that we have, we

      22      point out the common and uncommon challenges we

      23      face.

      24             Also to my far left is Kim Knotts.

      25             Kim is recently been promoted into the role


       1      of housing inspector in the building department.

       2             She's getting trained up, fully certified,

       3      but still getting caught up to speed.

       4             But, nonetheless, I just want to begin with

       5      David Dinkins.

       6             Mayor Dinkins said, "You can tell whether or

       7      not a community cares, or a City cares, about its

       8      community if the block is clean, if the homes are

       9      well-kept, if the sidewalks are straight.  But if

      10      it's filthy, full of just burnt-out, abandoned

      11      buildings, it's clear that the government doesn't

      12      care."

      13             So, like you, like him, the City of

      14      Mount Vernon believes that our neighborhoods should

      15      be clean and zombie-free.

      16             These zombies, they suck the life out of

      17      property values, and they invite all sorts of

      18      negative activity that harm quality of life.

      19             And we have an exaggeration per se of what

      20      the situation is like, with a picture of

      21      Count Dracula with a werewolf, greeting the

      22      neighbor, because that's exactly what neighbors

      23      experience when they see these zombie homes overrun

      24      with mosquitoes and rats and rodents, et cetera.

      25             So we do our best to communicate with the


       1      neighborhoods about what we're doing, and how we're

       2      working with you, and, specific, on trying to make

       3      sure that we keep the neighborhoods clean.

       4             And one of the things that we've done with

       5      the leadership of Commissioner Okarter, our zombie

       6      task force, which is a cross-cutting task force of

       7      police, fire, buildings, law, public works, water,

       8      we go and visit these various locations in town, and

       9      we apply everything that you're asking us, from the

      10      BuildingBlock software that was given to us, access

      11      to, through the New York State Attorney General's

      12      Office, which we're very thankful for, but, also,

      13      the laws that you passed, holding banks and derelict

      14      property owners accountable.

      15             On January 15th we levied penalties and

      16      fines, using state and local laws, on 44 bank-owned

      17      properties.

      18             As of March 15th, the fines and penalties

      19      reached over 4 million.

      20             Today those fines, approximately, are

      21      $8 1/2 million.

      22             Our goal is to do what you intended, punish

      23      the banks to do something with the properties.

      24             And our objective is to reclaim those parcels

      25      and auction them off to middle-class, hard-working


       1      families.

       2             That's something that we believe we can do,

       3      we're going continue to push it.

       4             We ask you to monitor this progress.

       5             And we've been keeping Senator Biaggi's

       6      office updated as to what we've been doing to remain

       7      vigilant on this.

       8             As I mentioned, we have some common and

       9      uncommon challenges.

      10             Common, yes; resources, priorities.

      11             We're very limited on resources.

      12             But, the priorities, uncommon.

      13             For some reason, the funding for our

      14      operations by our city council does not include

      15      monies to hire inspectors, even though these roles,

      16      pay as you go, that's an internal, you know,

      17      baseball thing.

      18             But we do believe that we're going to win

      19      that game for the people of Mount Vernon, and,

      20      hopefully, our colleagues will fund the operations

      21      much more adequately.

      22             Moving on, I just want to point out two

      23      things, and turn it over to Commissioner Okarter.

      24             We know, as I already described, that, zombie

      25      homes, they suck the life out of neighborhoods.


       1      They prevent our beautiful gardens from blooming.

       2             And we believe we have to take every measure

       3      to prune and rid our neighborhoods of these zombies.

       4             And there are two points I just want to

       5      suggest.

       6             One is, perhaps New York State Senate can

       7      think about giving communities, cities like

       8      Mount Vernon, an additional tool to deal these

       9      zombie properties.

      10             Perhaps we can explore measures or laws that

      11      would require insurance companies to pick up the

      12      tab, to require the homeowner, be it a burnt-out

      13      parcel, they get their insurance check, they

      14      disappear.

      15             Or, perhaps there could be a more stringent

      16      requirement to say:  You have to deal with this, you

      17      have to maintain it.  You just can't take your money

      18      and run.

      19             Another one could be, thinking about

      20      investing in the database to complement Tolemi,

      21      Tolemi software, BuildingBlocks.

      22             They have an internal aggregate system that

      23      helps municipalities like ours deal with all the

      24      data and synthesize it.

      25             Maybe there's another software platform that


       1      can help create a user -- end-user interface on the

       2      constituent end, that can kind of blend the systems

       3      per se, and help us even better communicate, than

       4      having to use some real simple measures of pen and

       5      paper.

       6             But with that, I just want to say thank you

       7      again.

       8             We understand this is the beginning of a

       9      conversation; we want to continue the conversation.

      10             And with that, I'll just talk -- yield to

      11      Commissioner Okarter, and then Commissioner Beale,

      12      if they want to add anything in addition.

      13             CHANTELLE OKARTER:  Absolutely.

      14             Thank you very much for allowing to us speak

      15      today.

      16             So, some of the numbers that we are dealing

      17      with:

      18             We have about 201 abandoned, vacant

      19      properties right now, and one of the large issues,

      20      is about 163 of those are owned by LLCs.

      21             So we have been having a hard time finding

      22      out who is behind the LLCs so we can actually deal

      23      with the problem.

      24             So as the mayor said, instead of, you know,

      25      kind of running into roadblocks, we have decided to


       1      go ahead and focus on the bank-owned properties that

       2      we have, because at least we have been able to

       3      identify the bank-owned properties.

       4             So we are also actively trying to work on our

       5      City-owned properties as well.

       6             We only have about 14 that are zombies, so --

       7      which is a good thing, that, you know, in our

       8      4.2 square miles, we only have about 14 properties

       9      that the City needs to remedy.

      10             But, in regards to the fact that we also have

      11      been working with very, very limited resources with

      12      our code-enforcement officer, one of the things that

      13      we've tried to do, is that we received on the list,

      14      a zombie grant.  And we're trying to make sure we

      15      can use some of the those fundings to have -- to

      16      hire another code-enforcement officer to help us

      17      with direct code enforcement.

      18             One of the numbers that I really want to

      19      highlight is the 44 percent that the mayor had

      20      mentioned, and we have had a lot of, you know, fire

      21      instances in the city of Mount Vernon.

      22             And I think it's very important that you hear

      23      from the commissioner of fire because, these vacant

      24      and abandoned homes, they do cause more fire

      25      incidences that we have in the city of Mount Vernon.


       1             So at this point I'd like the turn the mic

       2      over.

       3             THEODORE W. BEALE:  Thanks, Commissioner.

       4             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Just be succinct, please.

       5             Yeah, thank you.

       6             THEODORE W. BEALE:  We have -- we had

       7      11,533 structure fire -- incidents in 2018.  Out of

       8      that, 58 were structure fires.

       9             MAYOR RICHARD THOMAS:  Repeat the number.

      10             THEODORE W. BEALE:  11,553 fire incidents in

      11      2018.

      12             Out of that, 58 were working structure fires,

      13      meaning, we had hose, flames, smoke, putting ladders

      14      on the building.

      15             In 2017, in December, at 328 Union Avenue, we

      16      had a zombie home with smoke coming out of it at

      17      10:00 at night.

      18             We were there for the next 7 1/2 hours, and

      19      we lost a 70-year-old man who was inside the home,

      20      trying to stay warm by using Sternos.

      21             That's one example of what we could do.

      22             That's one life too many.

      23             All right, at 151 Union Avenue, we have a

      24      similar situation we've been battling for the last

      25      three years.


       1             The courts, the building department, the law

       2      department, the police department, we're all on

       3      board, working together as one unit under the

       4      mayor's leadership.

       5             But this is, we need a little bit more help,

       6      and that's what it comes down to.

       7             MAYOR RICHARD THOMAS:  And in closing, I want

       8      to say, you know, very thankful for the opportunity

       9      to appear before you, bring this to your attention.

      10             It definitely hurts the economy.

      11             And just wanted to leave you with one story.

      12             A family that lives next door to a zombie,

      13      they have a daughter that decides to go to college.

      14             The parents, hard-working parents, try to go

      15      get equity out of their home.

      16             They can't.

      17             10 percent vanished because the vampire next

      18      door sucked it out.

      19             That means one of the parents or relatives

      20      has to work a double or triple job to come up with

      21      the money to buy books at college.

      22             That hurts.

      23             So we take it serious, we understand the

      24      impact.

      25             And we hope that you continue to bring the


       1      fight to where it belongs: the people that are doing

       2      this are nameless and faceless, and we ask you to

       3      keep go getting them.

       4             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you very much for

       5      your testimony, each of you.

       6             And I also want to thank Senator Biaggi for

       7      really taking the lead on this component of our

       8      effort here.

       9             And I thank you for viewing this as an

      10      opportunity to share and to learn.

      11             And, hopefully, the entire state will be able

      12      to get some best practices and further support from

      13      the State at the end of this.

      14             I will be very brief.

      15             If my staff could just put up one property.

      16             We have 19 Terrace Avenue.

      17             This building caught fire in May of 2016.

      18             I suspect, at least you, sir, are aware and

      19      remember.

      20             But it was -- we found it odd that, you know,

      21      you could obviously see the condition of that

      22      building there, that there are no violations listed

      23      in the software for that property.

      24             Can you explain how -- how you reconcile

      25      that?


       1             THEODORE W. BEALE:  The fire department

       2      doesn't do those violations.  It's all in the

       3      building department.

       4             And we're using the Muni software.

       5             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Sorry, I didn't mean you

       6      directly, but I meant, "you," the panel.

       7             THEODORE W. BEALE:  No, I can't explain it

       8      more than, we were there, we've been on top of it.

       9      We go there on a weekly basis to make sure that

      10      we're trying to get something done through the

      11      planning department and the banks and the zombie

      12      task force.

      13             But, it's -- I think Deutsche Bank owns that.

      14      Right?

      15             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  And perhaps code

      16      enforcement can respond?

      17             CHANTELLE OKARTER:  So I know that, with the

      18      zombie task force, we have been actually been

      19      focusing on properties like this.

      20             We understand that, because we've had limited

      21      resources, the amount of violations that should

      22      happen, often don't happen because we have one

      23      inspector.

      24             So when we actually have a zombie

      25      (indiscernible), this is one of the properties that


       1      we actually went out and violated.

       2             I'm not sure if it fed into BuildingBlocks,

       3      but there are violations that have been placed

       4      recently on this property.

       5             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you.

       6             Before I just turn it over to Senator Biaggi,

       7      who I know wants to make some remarks and ask a

       8      question or two, I just would like to say that

       9      I'm -- I totally get the constraints on resources,

      10      and we've heard it from Newburgh and elsewhere.

      11             But I'm sort of astounded that, for a city of

      12      80,000 people, I think you said, there's only one

      13      code-enforcement inspector.

      14             That's a lot of people for one person, and so

      15      I don't envy your work.

      16             But I would encourage the City to perhaps

      17      better prioritize code enforcement, moving forward.

      18             Thank you.

      19             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Thank you, Senator Skoufis.

      20             Thank you to all of you for being here today.

      21      I appreciate you making the journey up here, and

      22      also prioritizing this very important issue.

      23             As you know, you can draw a direct line from

      24      the lack of code enforcement to the loss of life,

      25      and so we do take this seriously.


       1             And, of course, this is a matter of life and

       2      death.

       3             And so our aim is to make sure that we

       4      understand the needs of the cities and the

       5      municipalities that are here today, as well as

       6      understand the system better.

       7             I think that what we have seen today is a

       8      pattern of lack of resources, a pattern of

       9      enforcement and accountability.

      10             And so I think that what I would love to

      11      start with is the comment, Mayor Thomas, that you

      12      made about the funding.

      13             So can you talk a little bit about the way in

      14      which the code-enforcement aspect of the city's

      15      operation would be funded?

      16             Because you made a reference to the city

      17      council, so I want to just be clear as to how that

      18      works, and to understand your involvement in the

      19      budget.

      20             At a state level, I'm sure you're very aware

      21      that our budget process is very different.

      22             It's incredibly imbalanced by the Executive

      23      over the Legislature.

      24             So I'm just trying to understand, from your

      25      perspective, so we can understand how you allocate


       1      your resources.

       2             MAYOR RICHARD THOMAS:  So the system performs

       3      as designed.

       4             And for those that are just learning about

       5      Mount Vernon, that -- or watching this online,

       6      Mount Vernon is structured like a three-legged

       7      stool.

       8             You have the mayor's office, you have the

       9      city council which is independently elected, and a

      10      comptroller who is also independently elected, and

      11      the three have, you know, various responsibilities.

      12             As mayor, I set the vision.

      13             I try to present -- I present a budget that

      14      I believe meets the needs of the people.

      15             And then the city council makes the

      16      determination, whether or not to allocate resources

      17      according to that vision.

      18             For the past few years, they have chosen a

      19      different approach, an approach that does not put

      20      the dollars toward protecting the people, or dollars

      21      toward funding inspectors and code enforcement.

      22             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Is there -- is there a

      23      housing agency in -- or, excuse me, not a housing

      24      agency -- a housing committee in the city council?

      25             MAYOR RICHARD THOMAS:  There is buildings and


       1      codes.

       2             It is chaired by Councilwoman Lisa Copeland,

       3      and she's been very adamant about getting the proper

       4      funds allocated.

       5             And she attended with us a seminar at the

       6      Harvard Kennedy School of Government just yesterday.

       7      There was a great discussion on code enforcement as

       8      well.

       9             That's included in your packet, our

      10      presentation.

      11             And it takes, you know, as you know, votes.

      12             And we've been unsuccessful in getting

      13      cooperation from our colleagues.

      14             Commissioner Okarter can speak more at length

      15      about that.

      16             But the bottom line is, we presented a

      17      pay-as-you-go budget each year, and will continue to

      18      do so.

      19             The inspections pay for themselves, and

      20      that's, essentially, what we hope our colleagues can

      21      embrace.

      22             SENATOR BIAGGI:  That makes sense.

      23             Do you -- so, I mean, looking at the numbers

      24      here, I think that the fire commissioner speaking

      25      about the fact that, in 2018, there were


       1      11,553 fires that --

       2             I'm sorry?

       3             THEODORE W. BEALE:  Fire incidents.

       4             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Fire...?

       5             THEODORE W. BEALE:  Fire incidents.

       6             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Fire incidents.

       7             THEODORE W. BEALE:  That's natural structure

       8      fires.

       9             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Fire incidents.

      10             And you said 58 percent of those were...?

      11             THEODORE W. BEALE:  58 of them were structure

      12      fires.

      13             SENATOR BIAGGI:  58 of them were structure

      14      fires.

      15             I mean, there is a direct correlation between

      16      zombie properties and fires, and zombie properties

      17      and abandoned properties and code enforcement that

      18      is necessary in these areas.

      19             And so what would it take for the City of

      20      Mount Vernon to be able to, from your office, say,

      21      this is actually an emergency, so we need to

      22      actually allocate funds to assess this?

      23             Because, I mean, the portion of Mount Vernon

      24      that I represent is Fleetwood, and so there's not

      25      much -- it's not a huge portion of Mount Vernon.


       1             But I have seen, over the years, having grown

       2      up in the adjacent town, an increase in abandoned

       3      homes, more so than I've ever seen in my entire

       4      almost 30 years living there.

       5             So would I argue that this is an emergency,

       6      and that this is something that needs to be taken

       7      care of and assessed and prioritized quickly, mainly

       8      because it is, again, a matter of life and death in

       9      many instances.

      10             And we don't want people to lose their lives,

      11      and we don't want firefighters to go into areas

      12      where they don't know what the layout of the

      13      building is or what possible harms could be in their

      14      way.

      15             THEODORE W. BEALE:  That's right.

      16             CHANTELLE OKARTER:  So I think that the mayor

      17      has definitely prioritized this exact point.

      18             That's why he's led the zombie task force,

      19      and just -- we've also been working on, you know,

      20      trying to get the grants, like the Cities Rise

      21      (indiscernible).

      22             We have done our part to try to get the

      23      funding.

      24             We have also explored using CDBG funding to

      25      also fund a code-enforcement practice.


       1             Those are the things that are within our

       2      power and our purview.

       3             Unfortunately, we're still struggling to get

       4      the other parties on board, but --

       5             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Do the other parties include

       6      the State?

       7             CHANTELLE OKARTER:  So I know that we have

       8      definitely communicated with your office, and wanted

       9      to keep you updated, and that's why we're here

      10      today --

      11             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Sure.

      12             CHANTELLE OKARTER:  -- because I think we do

      13      need to start to partner more with the State,

      14      because we just need the State's input to help us

      15      get it together.

      16             SENATOR BIAGGI:  What would the amount that

      17      you need, you think, for the operation to run

      18      effectively, or at least to address some of these

      19      issues, and make sure that some of these properties

      20      are taken care of?

      21             CHANTELLE OKARTER:  I would say at least,

      22      about, 200,000.

      23             So, you know, we have actually tried to fund

      24      one or two code-enforcement officer roles, and those

      25      are at least sixty to eighty thousand to get someone


       1      that's actually certified.

       2             One of the issues that we have, is that a lot

       3      of people are not really certified.  They say they

       4      can go in and look at the properties.

       5             But we definitely want them to be

       6      State-certified and trained, because we know that

       7      our properties have a lot of issues that we need --

       8             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Sure, sure.

       9             Okay, that's -- that's --

      10             MAYOR RICHARD THOMAS:  I just want to add one

      11      more point to that.

      12             Before we arrived here this morning, a street

      13      collapsed adjacent to a construction site in

      14      Fleetwood.

      15             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Oh, great.

      16             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Broad Street.

      17             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Not great.

      18             MAYOR RICHARD THOMAS:  Not great.

      19             But -- but, it happened.

      20             And I share that because there's a lot of

      21      construction going on.  And no matter how many

      22      different management approaches we put in, we still

      23      need warm bodies to kind of go into and do the

      24      quality control.

      25             Where I'm going with this is, yes, we dodged


       1      a bullet, but, one of the workers that were inside

       2      came out, and he said, he's a plumber, he's very

       3      concerned about the inspections and the delays that

       4      are involved.

       5             And the only thing we could do is invoke

       6      State law and City law to outsource some of this

       7      work.

       8             SENATOR BIAGGI:  So when you say -- so

       9      I don't want to get us off track, because I do have

      10      questions, and I want to make sure that we answer,

      11      and I know we're very tight on time here.

      12             But when you say "the resources," so is that

      13      because it's a state road?  Or --

      14             MAYOR RICHARD THOMAS:  No, no, no, no.

      15             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Or, I'm sorry.

      16             Not the resources.

      17             My apologies.

      18             For the permits.

      19             Isn't that something that is -- that is --

      20             MAYOR RICHARD THOMAS:  It's locally

      21      administered.

      22             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Right.

      23             MAYOR RICHARD THOMAS:  It's just, the system

      24      performs as designed.

      25             If we only have one inspector, and we have --


       1      you know, if you go to McDonald's, or you go to a

       2      fast-food establishment, if you're waiting on line

       3      long, you're going to walk out, you're going

       4      somewhere else.

       5             So that's basically the experience people

       6      have.

       7             SENATOR BIAGGI:  What is the average time

       8      that --

       9             MAYOR RICHARD THOMAS:  So we've been --

      10             SENATOR BIAGGI:  -- it would take for a

      11      property --

      12             MAYOR RICHARD THOMAS:  -- we've been able to

      13      reduce the intake, in terms of processing permits,

      14      down, from 80 days, to 3 days.

      15             That's an electronic approach that we've

      16      implemented, but it still requires people to go and

      17      inspect.

      18             And what I'm pointing to is, we have created

      19      a vendor list to conduct inspections, but that's,

      20      again, pay as you go.

      21             There are hazards with it.

      22             We're doing our best to maintain quality

      23      control.

      24             SENATOR BIAGGI:  I understand.

      25             MAYOR RICHARD THOMAS:  But when you have --


       1             SENATOR BIAGGI:  I got you.

       2             MAYOR RICHARD THOMAS:  -- a deliberate,

       3      quote/unquote, unfunding of the government --

       4             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Sure, sure.

       5             MAYOR RICHARD THOMAS:  -- that's what we're

       6      dealing with, and we're doing the best to keep up.

       7             And Omondi who's here can speak, if you want,

       8      you know, he can speak to the time it takes,

       9      because, if he has to go to court and provide

      10      testimony (indiscernible cross-talking) --

      11             SENATOR BIAGGI:  No, I get that, I understand

      12      that.

      13             And I want to just, like --

      14             MAYOR RICHARD THOMAS:  -- yeah, sure.

      15             SENATOR BIAGGI:  -- if we could do shorter

      16      answers, then we can get to our other witnesses --

      17             MAYOR RICHARD THOMAS:  Done.

      18             SENATOR BIAGGI:  -- because we do have a rent

      19      hearing after this as well.

      20             Is the building department fully automated,

      21      or is it based on paper too?  Is there an

      22      integration?

      23             Because I know you mentioned the system that

      24      you're using, which a lot of the municipalities are

      25      using.


       1             CHANTELLE OKARTER:  So the integration is

       2      pretty much complete.

       3             We had a building commissioner that came in

       4      at the end of last year, and he is focused solely on

       5      integrating the intake process.

       6             So I would say that, from speaking to him,

       7      it's about 80 to 90 percent done.  But there is

       8      still some paper that still needs to be integrated.

       9             SENATOR BIAGGI:  That's great.

      10             In terms of the relationship between the

      11      code-enforcement office, even though you're one

      12      person, you're an entity, and also the fire

      13      department, how are you communicating with each

      14      other?

      15             And how -- how do you -- how would you be

      16      made aware, as the fire commissioner, of any new

      17      properties that are eminently, you know, providing a

      18      risk or could possibly provide a risk?

      19             And then how are you communicating with code

      20      enforcement about things that your firefighters are

      21      seeing so that they understand what they need to do,

      22      and vice versa?

      23             THEODORE W. BEALE:  Basically, we do it all

      24      by e-mail,; e-mail back and forth between myself,

      25      my captain in charge of fire prevention, and the


       1      building commissioner, and we have a pretty steady

       2      flow going on.

       3             Plus, we're also in BuildingBlocks.

       4             So, BuildingBlocks, we put it into our

       5      system, it goes into there, and they put it in.

       6             And, at the end of the day, when the

       7      BuildingBlocks data mines the information, it comes

       8      up in the report.

       9             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Okay.  Do all of the

      10      firefighters see what's in BuildingBlocks?

      11             THEODORE W. BEALE:  No.

      12             SENATOR BIAGGI:  So how would the rest of the

      13      firefighters get the information to make sure that

      14      they're safe?

      15             THEODORE W. BEALE:  All right, we use a

      16      system called Red Alert, and Red Alert is part of

      17      our system, and that's where our fire inspections

      18      are in.

      19             So if there is an incident at one of these

      20      buildings, there's a flashing scene, while the

      21      dispatcher puts the call out, to be aware that there

      22      is an incident or a hazard or a violation

      23      outstanding on that property line, so we know, when

      24      we go in, to be aware of it.

      25             SENATOR BIAGGI:  So there is any process by


       1      which any of the abandoned properties, or a list of

       2      properties, that would provide risk to the

       3      firefighters, has been implemented to say, let's

       4      say, a weekly briefing, or a monthly briefing, where

       5      the firefighters are getting this information in a

       6      way that is -- that makes sense for the turf that

       7      they cover?

       8             THEODORE W. BEALE:  So, you know, we do it.

       9             What we do is, we put on it paper at every

      10      watch staff, 'cause also on the computer.  So

      11      when -- there's screens in every firehouse, they'll

      12      put the calls out.

      13             So if you're going to a call at 123 Main

      14      Street, for example --

      15             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Sure.

      16             THEODORE W. BEALE:  -- and there's a

      17      hazard --

      18             SENATOR BIAGGI:  I understand that part.

      19             THEODORE W. BEALE:  -- it starts flashing, so

      20      it immediately kicks in.

      21             SENATOR BIAGGI:  I get that, I get that part.

      22             I think the thing I'm just -- I'm getting at,

      23      that I'm suggesting that you do, if it's not already

      24      there, is to implement a system or a process whereby

      25      the firefighters have this information, and it's in


       1      a place where they can access it, regardless of, if

       2      this flash comes up on the screen, because you could

       3      imagine that, systems fail, and this is a way to

       4      prevent loss of life.

       5             I have so many questions, but I'm just going

       6      to end on this one.

       7             We heard from Newburgh earlier about the way

       8      in which their code-enforcement officers are put

       9      into their jobs.

      10             It's a civil service job.  Right?

      11             So that's a job that, as we -- we know what

      12      the definition of "civil service" is.

      13             Would you recommend that -- I mean, I should

      14      actually back up for a second.

      15             The code-enforcement positions, are they

      16      appointed?

      17             Are they --

      18             MAYOR RICHARD THOMAS:  (Indiscernible.)

      19             SENATOR BIAGGI:  They're -- just -- just the

      20      civil service.

      21             So it's a civil-service process as well.

      22             Okay, that's great.

      23             My time is up.

      24             I have so many more questions for you, and,

      25      luckily, I represent Mount Vernon, so I can ask you


       1      anytime.

       2             Thank you very much for being here.

       3             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you very much for

       4      your testimony, appreciate your presence here.

       5             Yeah, thank you.

       6             MAYOR RICHARD THOMAS:  I heard your next

       7      topic is rent.

       8             I just want to point this out, something

       9      I think may be important for you to think about.

      10             New York City Mayor de Blasio implemented a

      11      new policy, about having people rent outside of

      12      New York City for at least one year, where New York

      13      City will pay the rent.

      14             After that, what happens?

      15             It's a concern.

      16             We understand that we want to create new

      17      housing, but we also don't want to artificially

      18      increase the cost of rent in our local community,

      19      because renters may not be able to compete with

      20      New York City.

      21             Thank you.

      22             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      23             Thanks very much.

      24             Next we'll hear from the department of state,

      25      John Addario, director, division of building


       1      standards and codes.

       2             MATTHEW FERNANDEZ KONIGSBERG:  My name is

       3      Matthew Fernandez Konigsberg.  I'm special counsel

       4      for ethics, risk, and compliance of the department

       5      of state.

       6             I'm going to be counseling Mr. Addario in his

       7      official capacity as the director.

       8             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

       9             Thanks very much to both of you being here.

      10             If you may, as we've done with the other

      11      testimony -- the other witnesses, if you could raise

      12      your right hand.

      13             Do you solemnly swear that you'll tell the

      14      truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,

      15      so help you God.

      16             JOHN ADDARIO:  I do.

      17             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you very much.

      18             Please proceed.

      19             JOHN ADDARIO:  Chairman Skoufis,

      20      Chairman Kavanagh, and other distinguished members,

      21      thank you for this opportunity to address the Joint

      22      Committee.

      23             My name is John Addario.

      24             I am the director of buildings -- of the

      25      division of building standards and codes at the


       1      department of state.

       2             As you know, the division of building

       3      standards and codes provides a variety of services

       4      related to the New York State Uniform Fire

       5      Prevention Building Code and State Energy Code,

       6      including, but not limited to:

       7             Serving as a secretary to the New York State

       8      Building Code Counsel, which is the governing body

       9      for modifications and updates to the uniform code;

      10             Assisting the code council with development

      11      and adoption of periodic updates and amendments to

      12      the uniform code and energy code;

      13             Providing technical assistance to local

      14      governments and to regulated parties;

      15             Administering applications for variances to

      16      the uniform code and energy code;

      17             Delivering training for the basic training,

      18      certification, and education to code-enforcement

      19      officials;

      20             Overseeing the code-enforcement practices of

      21      local governments;

      22             Approving modular-home construction plans;

      23             Among many other statutory requirements under

      24      Article 18 of the Executive Law.

      25             Under Article 18, a local government, which


       1      is a city, town, or village, is responsible for

       2      administration and enforcement of the uniform code

       3      and energy code with respect to buildings and

       4      structures located in the municipality.

       5             The department of state has no

       6      code-enforcement authority at any local government;

       7      however, the department of state does oversee

       8      code-enforcement activities in all local governments

       9      throughout the state.

      10             The local governments are required to enforce

      11      the uniform code and energy code in accordance with

      12      the minimum standards established by the department

      13      of state's regulations.

      14             A local government can opt out of enforcement

      15      of the uniform code, but in no case can the local

      16      government opt out of applicability of the uniform

      17      code.

      18             When a local government opts out, the

      19      responsibility for administration and enforcement of

      20      the uniform code in that local government transfers

      21      to the county.

      22             Executive law provides that the secretary of

      23      state shall promulgate rules and regulations

      24      prescribing the minimum standards for administration

      25      and enforcement of the uniform code in local


       1      governments.

       2             The regulations, including Part 1203 and 1208

       3      of Title 19 of the Rules and Regulations of the

       4      State of New York, establish the minimum standards

       5      to be used for administrating and enforcing the

       6      uniform code.

       7             The minimum standards provide that each local

       8      government and each county that is responsible for

       9      administration and enforcement of the uniform code

      10      must adopt one or more local laws, ordinance, or

      11      other appropriate regulations that establish a

      12      code-enforcement program.

      13             The minimum standards further provide that

      14      each such code-enforcement program must include the

      15      features described in Part 1203.

      16             Those features include, but are not limited

      17      to, provisions relating to building permits,

      18      construction inspections, stop-work orders,

      19      certificates of occupancy or compliance, temporary

      20      certificates of occupancy, establishing procedures

      21      for identifying and addressing unsafe structures and

      22      equipment, operating permits, fire safety and

      23      property maintenance inspections, establishing

      24      procedures for addressing bona fide complaints, and

      25      periodic condition assessments of parking garages,


       1      and recordkeeping.

       2             When the department of state is reviewing

       3      aspects of the local government's program for

       4      administration and enforcement of the uniform code,

       5      these are the features that are used as a basis to

       6      judge whether they are meeting the minimum

       7      standards.

       8             The division of building standards codes has

       9      the authority to review aspects of a local

      10      government's program for administration and

      11      enforcement of the uniform code and energy code.

      12             The uniform code is a regulation that

      13      provides requirements on how to build a building or

      14      structure, whereas a local zoning or ordinance

      15      regulate where to build a building or structure.

      16             Buildings must comply with both the uniform

      17      code and any local zoning requirements.

      18             The department of state does not have the

      19      authority to review local zoning or land-use laws or

      20      regulations, including actions taken by local

      21      planning boards.

      22             Issues related to local zoning or land-use

      23      laws, ordinances, or regulations are administered

      24      and enforced by the local government.

      25             The uniform code on one hand, and local


       1      zoning and land-use laws on the other, are separate

       2      and distinct laws.

       3             The division has the authority to grant

       4      variances to the uniform code and energy code, but

       5      does so under the assumption that all other laws,

       6      regulations, are complied with.

       7             If a variance is required under any other law

       8      or regulation, those requirements would need to be

       9      addressed by the governing body of those

      10      regulations.

      11             A variance to the one does not preclude

      12      regulated parties from requirements of the other.

      13             If a party has information or proof that any

      14      local government is not properly enforcing or

      15      addressing specific property that is in violation of

      16      the uniform code, the department asks that that

      17      party provide such information to the division of

      18      building standards and codes, and that they also

      19      include, with the information, as much detail as

      20      possible, including, but not limited to, the address

      21      of the property, the name of the local government,

      22      the nature of the violation, the information already

      23      provided to local government, the information that

      24      the party has with respect to the manner in which

      25      the local government has addressed or attempted to


       1      address the situation.

       2             Article 18 of the Executive Law grants the

       3      secretary of state the power to investigate whether

       4      administration and enforcement of the uniform code

       5      complies with the minimum standards.

       6             The department has an array of possible

       7      actions it may take, pursuant to Executive Law, to

       8      help ensure the health and welfare of occupants and

       9      users of the buildings within the locality.

      10             If the secretary determines that the local

      11      government has failed to properly administer and

      12      enforce the uniform code, the secretary may take any

      13      of the actions set forth in Executive Law,

      14      including, but not limited to, issuing an order to

      15      local government compelling compliance with the

      16      minimum standards.

      17             In the case of the Town of Ramapo, the

      18      secretary of state issued an order to the Town on

      19      April of 2016, compelling compliance with the

      20      minimum standards.

      21             Thereafter, an oversight officer was assigned

      22      to the Town by the means of a memorandum of

      23      agreement on December 2016.

      24             The oversight officer reviewed the Town's

      25      activities relating to administration and


       1      enforcement of the uniform code, and used the

       2      previously-stated features as a basis of comparison.

       3             In addition, the oversight officer was

       4      authorized by the agreement to review applications

       5      for building permits, accompany Town inspectors on

       6      construction inspections, review reports prepared by

       7      the Town inspectors of construction inspections,

       8      review building permits, observe court proceedings,

       9      and provide technical assistance and advice to the

      10      Town related to the uniform code.

      11             In no case was the oversight officer

      12      responsible for administration and enforcement of

      13      the uniform code within the town of Ramapo.

      14             Our oversight within local governments is

      15      limited to administration and enforcement of the

      16      uniform code and energy code, and does not cover

      17      issues such as land use, congestion, overcrowding of

      18      land, undue concentration of population, court

      19      proceedings, provisions for adequate transportation,

      20      water, sewage, power, schools, parks, or other

      21      public requirements.

      22             Based upon the oversight's observations

      23      during the two-year period, which includes

      24      interviews with the Town building department staff

      25      and examination of the Town's code-enforcement


       1      administration records, the observations made during

       2      site visits, the oversight officer and the division

       3      of building standards and codes recommended that the

       4      secretary find and determine that the Town had

       5      demonstrated compliance with the minimum standards.

       6             Thereafter, on December 2018, the secretary

       7      terminated the memorandum of agreement.

       8             The Town of Ramapo is now subject to normal

       9      oversight procedures of the department of state as

      10      on applied to all local governments statewide.

      11             When the Legislature enacted Article 18, it

      12      established a system under which local governments

      13      administrator and enforce the uniform code.

      14             This was a logical choice, since building

      15      construction is a local matter and local governments

      16      are already on-site.

      17             Local governments are best able to coordinate

      18      enforcement of the uniform code with enforcement of

      19      local zoning and land-use laws.

      20             With respect to new buildings, local

      21      governments are best able to monitor construction

      22      and perform construction inspections.

      23             With respect to existing buildings, local

      24      governments are best able to observe local

      25      conditions, and identify and address problems.


       1             With respect to periodic fire and safety and

       2      property maintenance inspections, the local

       3      government is familiar with the buildings, and the

       4      local government is best suited to create an

       5      inventory of their buildings.

       6             If the matter is referred to a local court,

       7      the attorney for the local government will be

       8      familiar with the local practice of the court.

       9             When the Legislature enacted Article 18, the

      10      Legislature declared that it is public policy of the

      11      State to encourage local governments to exercise

      12      their full power to administer and enforce the

      13      uniform code.

      14             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  I apologize for

      15      interrupting.

      16             Can you just summarize, perhaps, the rest, if

      17      you're not near the end?

      18             I know there are many questions that people

      19      have.

      20             JOHN ADDARIO:  Yeah, sure.

      21             The department of state helps implement the

      22      public policy by assisting local governments

      23      establishing and implementing local code-enforcement

      24      programs, and by providing the training and

      25      technical assistance necessary to help local


       1      governments fulfill their obligation, and enforce

       2      the uniform code and they do it in a proper manner.

       3             Through the efforts of the 45 men and women

       4      in the division of building standards and codes, the

       5      department of state helps 1600 local governments in

       6      the state fulfill their responsibility to extend to

       7      the public protection from the hazards of fire and

       8      inadequate building construction.

       9             Thank you.

      10             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you very much for

      11      your presence here and your testimony.

      12             I know everyone up here is grateful.

      13             I'm going to start broad, and then I'm going

      14      to get specific, if I may, and please keep answers

      15      as succinct as possible.

      16             Let me first start with the codes council.

      17             Are there any vacancies?

      18             JOHN ADDARIO:  Yes, there are.

      19             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Yes.

      20             How many?

      21             JOHN ADDARIO:  I believe six.

      22             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  How long have they been

      23      vacant for?

      24             JOHN ADDARIO:  I don't know that.

      25             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Do you know the longest


       1      vacancy?  Are we talking over a year?

       2             JOHN ADDARIO:  That's fair to say, yes.

       3             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

       4             Who's responsible for filling the vacancies?

       5             THEODORE W. BEALE:  There are certain

       6      positions that are appointed by the Governor, and

       7      then confirmed by the Senate.

       8             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay, so all -- just to be

       9      clear, all six of those vacancies require

      10      appointments -- or, nomination by the Governor?

      11             JOHN ADDARIO:  Yes.

      12             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Do you know why they've

      13      been left vacant?

      14             JOHN ADDARIO:  I know it's a lengthy process.

      15             I know we had some -- some, unfortunately,

      16      some, you know, deaths on -- in -- on the council.

      17             So...

      18             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      19             There's been some talk about minimum

      20      standards.

      21             And, you know, with Ramapo specifically, the

      22      department of state determined that they met, you

      23      know, minimal -- minimum standards of the building

      24      code.

      25             My understanding is that there -- you know,


       1      there are no tiers of building code, where, okay,

       2      here's excellent compliance, here's, you know,

       3      minimum compliance.

       4             So can you just briefly explain what the

       5      "minimum standards" are?

       6             I mean, it might mean there are just

       7      standards.  There aren't, you know, maximum

       8      standards, minimum standards; they're just

       9      standards.

      10             So where does that phrase come from; what

      11      does it had actually mean?

      12             JOHN ADDARIO:  Well, it comes from our --

      13      I believe, you know, our regulations set the minimum

      14      standards for enforcement and administration of the

      15      uniform code.

      16             But keep in mind that -- that local

      17      governments can -- can increase that standard.

      18             There's no -- there's no approval process

      19      that's done on the local level.

      20             So, when we say "minimum standards,"

      21      that's -- that's -- you know, that you have -- you

      22      know, that you look into complaints, that there's

      23      procedures and policies in place for that; that

      24      there's a plan review, you're doing the proper plan

      25      review; you're following through and issuing


       1      certificates of occupancy correctly; you're doing

       2      your fire safety and property maintenance

       3      inspections.

       4             All those things are the minimum standards.

       5             But, again, local municipalities have the

       6      luxury of increasing those.

       7             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

       8             We just heard from the previous witness --

       9      or, set of witnesses that there's only one

      10      code-enforcement inspector in the entire city of

      11      Mount Vernon of, approximately, 70,000 people,

      12      I think.

      13             Does that seem adequate to you?

      14             Is there anything the department of state can

      15      do, speaking of standards, are there any standards

      16      in terms of, you know, ratio of inspectors?

      17             Does the department of state believe --

      18      should you be concerned when you hear something like

      19      that?

      20             How can one person possibly inspect or, you

      21      know, provide safety on behalf of 80,000, 70,000,

      22      people, however many are in Mount Vernon?

      23             Certainly, there are fiscal constraints, and

      24      we've heard them from Newburgh and others.

      25             But what are your feelings, and what are the


       1      department of state's feelings, what's your

       2      position, when you hear something, in my opinion, as

       3      egregious as that?

       4             JOHN ADDARIO:  Yeah, there's no minimum

       5      standard for the number of code-enforcement

       6      officials at a municipality.

       7             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Should there be?

       8             JOHN ADDARIO:  You'd be asking for my

       9      opinion.

      10             I mean, I can't give you my opinion now.

      11             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      12             Have any -- you mentioned that municipalities

      13      can opt out of enforcement.

      14             Have any opted out in New York State?

      15             JOHN ADDARIO:  Yes, there are municipalities

      16      that are opted out, that it goes to the county.

      17             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Do you know how many?

      18             Is it a small number?

      19             JOHN ADDARIO:  I want to say 240, about.

      20             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  And that then goes to the

      21      county for enforcement, is that how it works?

      22             JOHN ADDARIO:  Yes.

      23             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      24             Have any counties opted out?

      25             JOHN ADDARIO:  Yes, twelve.


       1             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  And then that -- the

       2      enforcement then falls to the State?

       3             JOHN ADDARIO:  To the State, correct.

       4             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

       5             Do you believe the department of state is

       6      best suited for this oversight for code enforcement,

       7      or would, for example, the office of fire prevention

       8      be better suited?

       9             What's your feeling?

      10             JOHN ADDARIO:  Yeah, I believe the department

      11      of state is better suited.

      12             I mean, we have a highly technical staff;

      13      architects, engineers, code-compliance specialists.

      14             Yeah.

      15             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      16             What do you do when you receive a complaint?

      17             JOHN ADDARIO:  Normally, a complaint -- and

      18      there's two types of complaints:  You've got a

      19      complaint on a specific building or you've got a

      20      complaint on a municipality.

      21             Which, either one?  Or --

      22             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  A specific complaint?

      23             JOHN ADDARIO:  About a property or about a

      24      municipality?

      25             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  About a property.


       1             JOHN ADDARIO:  About a property, it usually

       2      comes in through our technical-support unit.

       3             Technical support works in conjunction with

       4      our oversight unit.

       5             We have a database system that, basically,

       6      that that would turn -- depending on the issue of

       7      the complaint, if it's something that rises to a

       8      certain level, we say we would act immediately upon

       9      it, and call the municipality and say, Hey, there's

      10      a, you know, potential issue here.

      11             We let them know, and then we follow up to

      12      see if they corrected it.

      13             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Do you make many of those

      14      calls over the course of, let's say, a year to

      15      municipalities?

      16             JOHN ADDARIO:  I couldn't give you --

      17      I couldn't give you a number.

      18             I mean, I would have to look.

      19             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Are we talking thousands,

      20      though?

      21             I mean, can you give me a ballpark?

      22             Hundreds?  Dozens?

      23             JOHN ADDARIO:  We deal with, we probably get

      24      about 2500 calls, you know, technical questions, a

      25      year, which result in, probably, about 20,000 return


       1      calls, we get more information.

       2             I would say, you know, there's a percentage

       3      of those.

       4             I don't know what it is.

       5             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

       6             Going to Ramapo, can you describe briefly

       7      the -- sort of the day-to-day responsibilities, work

       8      of the monitor, while she was there for two years?

       9             What was she doing on a daily basis --

      10             JOHN ADDARIO:  Sure.

      11             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  -- typical day?

      12             JOHN ADDARIO:  Sure.

      13             Just to make it clear, she was not running

      14      the building department.  I mean, based on the

      15      memorandum of agreement, she was not the authority

      16      having jurisdiction.

      17             She was monitoring, if you had -- I think --

      18      I believe you got the work plan, there were some

      19      items there.

      20             She was looking at the whole building

      21      department, how they were functioning.  If they were

      22      properly issuing certificates of occupancy.  If they

      23      were -- how they were doing the plan reviews, you

      24      know, the permit process.

      25             Not specific properties, but, she was looking


       1      at their process.  Were they -- how they were

       2      handling complaints.

       3             It was one of the things that we corrected

       4      when we were there.

       5             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  So when COs were issued,

       6      was, you know, she there, watching the COs be

       7      issued?  Or was it more of a systemic look that she

       8      was providing the Town?

       9             JOHN ADDARIO:  Well, it depends on the

      10      situation.

      11             If they had a particular issue with one, and

      12      then she may, you know, give them a hand, as far as

      13      what they needed to do with that, or what -- you

      14      know, what process they would need to go through.

      15             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  So it's fair to say that

      16      she was there to try and address the problems

      17      systemically?

      18             She wasn't really involved in specific

      19      applications?

      20             Is that --

      21             THEODORE W. BEALE:  That's fair.

      22             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  -- as a general rule

      23      (indiscernible cross-talking).

      24             JOHN ADDARIO:  I mean, she didn't -- yeah,

      25      she wasn't responsible for the particular property,


       1      or anything like that, as far as what they -- she

       2      would review the process, yes.

       3             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  So if there were problems

       4      with an application that resulted from systemic

       5      issues, she would not really been aware of those

       6      specific problems?

       7             JOHN ADDARIO:  I don't know.

       8             I wouldn't -- that isn't necessarily true.

       9             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  You don't know?

      10             JOHN ADDARIO:  Right.

      11             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      12             Are you aware that, while the monitor was

      13      there, that the chief building inspector,

      14      Anthony Mallia, resigned in mid-2017?

      15             JOHN ADDARIO:  Yes.

      16             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.  Are you aware that

      17      he was charged with approximately 188 counts, a

      18      felony-count indictment?

      19             JOHN ADDARIO:  Yes.

      20             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      21             When that occurred, did the monitor, or did

      22      the department of state, look back at any

      23      correspondences that he had with the department of

      24      state, with the monitor, to check that they were

      25      proper?  That they were true?


       1             JOHN ADDARIO:  In what -- in what -- I guess

       2      I don't understand your question, as far as --

       3             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  So, clearly, someone who,

       4      you know, resigned because he was improperly doing

       5      the work of a building inspector, chief building

       6      inspector, it begs the question, anything that he

       7      submitted to the department of state, any work he

       8      collaborated with the department of state on and the

       9      monitor, I would think should be checked for -- for

      10      validity after those charges came to light.

      11             Were they?

      12             JOHN ADDARIO:  I don't know if they were

      13      specifically looked at, but I know that he was

      14      involved in the original correspondence when we

      15      determined that they weren't in compliance with

      16      meeting the minimum standards.

      17             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.  Same sort of

      18      question about the Town supervisor who was arrested

      19      April 14, 2016.

      20             You know, based on the, about, 600, 700 pages

      21      of correspondences that we received from the

      22      department of state -- and I want to thank you for

      23      that -- last week, there were many that were from

      24      the Town supervisor, where, after his arrest, did

      25      you go back and check for validity in those


       1      correspondences?

       2             Were those correspondences found to be true,

       3      confirmed to be true, after his charges came down?

       4             JOHN ADDARIO:  And, again, I'll refer to

       5      that, those correspondences that I saw were in

       6      regard to them meeting them, not -- you know,

       7      meeting the minimum standards.

       8             There was some correspondence as far as, you

       9      know, where they were.

      10             But we still, again, determined that they

      11      weren't meeting the minimum standards.

      12             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Are you -- do you feel

      13      obligated to check in any way, since the monitor has

      14      been removed, that the Town is still in compliance

      15      with the minimum standards?

      16             JOHN ADDARIO:  We still keep in contact with

      17      them.

      18             Just because we ended the memorandum of

      19      agreement, we're still doing oversight like we do in

      20      all other municipalities.

      21             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      22             Are you aware that, when the monitor was

      23      removed, there were still 102 violations, cases,

      24      still pending in their court, code-enforcement

      25      violations?


       1             JOHN ADDARIO:  Yes.

       2             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.  Does that seem high?

       3             Or does that -- to me, you know, to have over

       4      100 cases still pending, it would be alarming -- it

       5      is alarming to me that the monitor was removed when

       6      there were, clearly, still substantial problems.

       7             JOHN ADDARIO:  The building department did --

       8      I mean, you're saying they were in court.

       9             The building department did what they should

      10      be doing, is issuing the violations and having them

      11      to go court.

      12             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      13             Last, for now, certainly not least, is it

      14      possible that the department of state will put the

      15      monitor back in the town of Ramapo?

      16             Is that something that the department of

      17      state is open to?

      18             JOHN ADDARIO:  If we see they're not meeting

      19      minimum standards, I mean, that would be an option.

      20             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay.

      21             I'll turn it over now to Senator Carlucci.

      22             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Thank you, Chairman.

      23             And thank you both for being here today,

      24      appreciate it.

      25             Now, we heard from Assemblyman Zebrowski this


       1      morning, he was talking about a case that we're

       2      familiar with, where one of the schools, to come

       3      into compliance, in working with the monitor,

       4      installed this temporary fire hydrant, that was then

       5      found to be non-working.

       6             It just seems like an alarming situation.

       7             And would you be able to give us some more

       8      clarity on that specific case?

       9             JOHN ADDARIO:  I'll clarify that, the

      10      oversight officer, there was some interaction with

      11      the oversight officer in that, but she was not in

      12      the capacity as an oversight officer.

      13             I believe that was in New Hempstead, and she

      14      was providing technical support to them.

      15             So, yes, I mean, we were involved, but not as

      16      the oversight officer.

      17             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.

      18             And this was under the advice of the

      19      department of state building monitor, that they put

      20      in a fire hydrant that just wasn't working?

      21             ALEXANDRA CHURCH:  We -- we -- like I said,

      22      we provide 2500 technical-support questions a year.

      23             The answer that was given was -- was through

      24      technical support, not through the oversight

      25      officer.


       1             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.

       2             Now -- and we talked, Senator Skoufis had

       3      asked, about the codes council, and the fact that

       4      there's six vacancies right now.

       5             And you had stated that there's a lengthy

       6      process.

       7             Could you talk a little bit more about this

       8      lengthy process to get someone on the council?

       9             JOHN ADDARIO:  Yeah, I believe we look at

      10      their qualifications and, you know, the background,

      11      you know, stuff like that, and make a call on that.

      12             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  So what are we waiting for

      13      right now with these vacancies on this council?

      14             JOHN ADDARIO:  I don't know.

      15             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.

      16             And with the monitor in the town of Ramapo,

      17      you had a memorandum of agreement to bring the

      18      monitor there.

      19             Is that something that the department of

      20      state needs in order to have an oversight monitor on

      21      the ground?

      22             JOHN ADDARIO:  I believe that was a legal

      23      decision.

      24             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  A legal decision.

      25             But do you believe that the law does not give


       1      the department of state the authority to come in and

       2      have an oversight monitor in building departments

       3      without their memorandum of agreement?

       4             JOHN ADDARIO:  I can't comment on that

       5      because it's a legal issue.  I'm not an attorney.

       6             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Maybe your counsel could

       7      comment on it?

       8             MATTHEW FERNANDEZ KONIGSBERG:  No.

       9             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  No?

      10             Okay.

      11             So -- okay, so we're not sure about that.

      12             And one of the complaints that we've heard

      13      from the Rockland Illegal Task Force that testified

      14      earlier today, in regards to the monitor on the

      15      ground, was the fact that they were not going out

      16      and seeing these sites.

      17             And Senator Skoufis did allude to this.

      18             I just want to get some more clarification in

      19      terms of, did the monitor ever go out and inspect

      20      any properties while they were --

      21             JOHN ADDARIO:  Yes.

      22             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  -- okay.

      23             Do you know approximately how many, or --

      24             JOHN ADDARIO:  It really depend -- it really

      25      depends.


       1             It depended on, you know, what her assigned

       2      tasks were that week.

       3             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.

       4             And could you comment at all about the

       5      current situation in Spring Valley, the monitor in

       6      Spring Valley?

       7             JOHN ADDARIO:  That's an ongoing matter.

       8      I can't -- I can't comment on that.

       9             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.

      10             Now, one of the complaints that I had during

      11      this process, was I was very excited that the

      12      department of state came down.

      13             We wanted to have transparency and clarity to

      14      fix the problem and have best practices, going

      15      forward.

      16             But the lack of communication just did not

      17      happen, or did not exist, and that's the same with

      18      the current monitor in the village of Spring Valley.

      19             Is there a specific reason that they're not

      20      communicating with elected officials, like,

      21      state-elected officials?

      22             JOHN ADDARIO:  The oversight, you know,

      23      officer's role is -- is to monitor -- you know, to

      24      look at the building departments, you know, the way

      25      they, you know, are doing their operating permits,


       1      issuing their certificates of occupancy.

       2             I think we had reached out, and, you know, if

       3      they wanted to contact the department of state, we

       4      told everybody that.

       5             I mean, as far as individual complaints, they

       6      should be going to the building department itself

       7      for properties.

       8             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  So if, in the village of

       9      Spring Valley, now that we have the monitor there,

      10      the complaints should be going, where?

      11             JOHN ADDARIO:  To Spring Valley.

      12             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  To Spring Valley, not to

      13      the department of state?

      14             JOHN ADDARIO:  If you have a complaint about

      15      the department itself, then I would say, yes, please

      16      contact us.

      17             If it's about a specific property, please

      18      contact Spring Valley.

      19             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.

      20             And part of our understanding and belief was

      21      that there would be this outreach with the community

      22      to really understand what's going on in the

      23      community.

      24             And I don't know if you heard the testimony

      25      earlier, the Illegal Housing Task Force was


       1      concerned that there was no outreach to some of the

       2      advocates that have been very critical of the

       3      building department.

       4             Can you speak to that, why that was not --

       5      why that didn't happen, to talk to actual -- the

       6      Illegal Housing Task Force or any other entities

       7      that were -- had major concerns on the ground?

       8             JOHN ADDARIO:  We had -- we had some meetings

       9      with them, and we told them, if they had issues with

      10      specific properties, and, basically, the same thing,

      11      please contact the municipality.

      12             If -- if, you know, you don't get results

      13      there, then please contact us.

      14             SENATOR CARLUCCI:  Okay.

      15             Thank you.

      16             Senator Kavanagh.

      17             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Thank you.

      18             And I will try to keep this brief, and we do

      19      have another hearing that is scheduled to begin

      20      shortly.

      21             And so for those who are here for that, we

      22      appreciate your patience.

      23             I just -- I want to follow up the -- the --

      24      this issue of counties and localities that opt out

      25      of enforcing the code.


       1             You said there were about 240 localities that

       2      are choosing not to enforce this code?

       3             JOHN ADDARIO:  Right.

       4             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  And there are 12 counties.

       5             Do counties only get into opting out at the

       6      point where there's a locality within that county,

       7      or do -- can they opt out sort of independently?

       8             JOHN ADDARIO:  They can opt out

       9      independently.

      10             There's no -- currently, right now, the

      11      12 counties that are opted out, there's no

      12      municipalities that have opted out.

      13             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Okay.  And the 12 -- what

      14      are the 12 counties that are opted out?

      15             JOHN ADDARIO:  I don't have a list.

      16             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Do you know -- I mean, I'm

      17      not -- I guess I'm not holding you to completeness,

      18      but can you give us some examples of some counties

      19      that have opted out?

      20             JOHN ADDARIO:  Saratoga County.

      21      Greene County.

      22             There's others.

      23             I'm sorry.

      24             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Okay.

      25             I -- I -- can we formally request that you


       1      provide that?

       2             JOHN ADDARIO:  Sure, yes, we'll give you

       3      something in writing.

       4             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  I mean, what -- so --

       5      what -- if I live in a county that is declining to

       6      enforce these basic codes, what is the department of

       7      state's approach to ensuring those codes are

       8      properly enforced?

       9             JOHN ADDARIO:  Just to make things clear,

      10      when a county opts out, the county is responsible

      11      for their county-owned buildings.

      12             So when a county opts out, then we're doing

      13      enforcement in the county buildings.

      14             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Only in the county-owned

      15      buildings?

      16             JOHN ADDARIO:  Only in the county buildings,

      17      yes.

      18             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  What about buildings owned

      19      by municipalities?

      20             JOHN ADDARIO:  Then they would be doing -- if

      21      a county -- if a municipality opts out, then the

      22      county would be responsible for enforcing the code

      23      in those localities --

      24             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  So otherwise --

      25             JOHN ADDARIO:  -- for all buildings.


       1             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  -- otherwise, localities

       2      are responsible for enforcing the codes in their the

       3      other own buildings, and counties are responsible

       4      for enforcing the codes in their own buildings, and

       5      if they choose to opt out, then the state --

       6      department of the state is responsible for

       7      enforcing?

       8             JOHN ADDARIO:  Correct.

       9             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Okay, but just -- in

      10      the -- beyond that, to the extent this -- to the

      11      extent these codes are applying to private

      12      properties within a locality, there's no opt-out

      13      provision for that?

      14             JOHN ADDARIO:  There is.

      15             No, that's what I'm saying.

      16             When a municipality opts out of enforcement

      17      of the uniform code, it goes to the county, and

      18      that's all the buildings within that municipality.

      19             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  So all the buildings --

      20             JOHN ADDARIO:  Yes.

      21             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  -- not just the ones owned

      22      by (indiscernible cross-talking)?

      23             JOHN ADDARIO:  Correct, correct.

      24             I'm sorry.

      25             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  I just want to make sure


       1      we were clear.

       2             JOHN ADDARIO:  Yes.

       3             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  So what is the department

       4      of state's method of ensuring that these twelve --

       5      I mean, that's a fifth of all counties are choosing

       6      not to enforce the code, which is surprising to some

       7      of us.

       8             But what is -- what would the -- how does the

       9      department of state ensure that these codes are

      10      enforced?

      11             I mean, do you --

      12             JOHN ADDARIO:  Our authority is under 1202 --

      13      is Part 1202 of the New York -- NYCR.

      14             And then we follow those procedures similar

      15      to what's in 1203.

      16             We do, essentially, what a municipality does.

      17             We do the inspections.

      18             We do the -- handle complaints on the county

      19      buildings.

      20             We do the property maintenance and fire

      21      inspections.

      22             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  And you have offices in

      23      each of those counties?

      24             JOHN ADDARIO:  No, no, we don't.

      25             We have regional staff.


       1             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Okay.  And the counties

       2      are spread throughout the state?

       3             JOHN ADDARIO:  Correct.

       4             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  And how many inspectors do

       5      you have directly on staff?

       6             JOHN ADDARIO:  Off the top of my head,

       7      probably five.

       8             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  So you have 5 inspectors

       9      whose job is to enforce these codes throughout

      10      12 counties that are spread throughout the state?

      11             JOHN ADDARIO:  Correct.

      12             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  That sounds like an awful

      13      lot of travel time.

      14             And to -- and in addition -- is that in

      15      addition to -- are there additional inspectors that

      16      are enforcing in the 240 localities?

      17             JOHN ADDARIO:  Those would be the counties.

      18             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  So the 240 localities are

      19      within the 12 counties?

      20             JOHN ADDARIO:  No, no.

      21             No, they're separate.

      22             We only do the county buildings in

      23      the twelve.

      24             There's other municipalities that have opted

      25      out to counties, that have -- that are doing the


       1      enforcement for those municipalities.

       2             Not -- not the ones that we're doing.  So

       3      we'll only do county buildings.

       4             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  I see.

       5             If the localities have opted out, they're in

       6      a county that is taking responsibility for that --

       7             JOHN ADDARIO:  Correct.

       8             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  -- all of those

       9      240 localities?

      10             I understand.

      11             Your -- you have training standards for

      12      inspectors.

      13             I understand that one has -- if one is an

      14      inspector, one has 18 months to complete all of the

      15      training standards after one has begun conducting

      16      inspections.

      17             Is that correct?

      18             JOHN ADDARIO:  Yes.

      19             They are -- once they're appointed to a

      20      code-enforcement official, then they have, there's

      21      an 18-month period where they can get their -- the

      22      certification.

      23             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  We heard testimony today

      24      that, in one case, there's a locality with a single

      25      inspector that's, presumably, responsible for all


       1      matters that need to be inspected in that locality.

       2             In another case we heard a large locality

       3      with only four inspectors, three of whom have been

       4      on the job only for a short period.

       5             Why would it be that you can be an inspector

       6      for 18 months without completing the training in the

       7      basic standards that you're there to enforce?

       8             JOHN ADDARIO:  Again, that's a minimum

       9      standard.

      10             Municipalities can say, you know what?  We --

      11      and I think what we heard, was that they -- through

      12      civil service or through the local municipalities,

      13      they can require them to be inspect -- you know,

      14      certified prior to being hired.

      15             So like they had said, it was hard to find a

      16      certified inspector.

      17             So right there is the case where you could

      18      say, you know what?  We see somebody that's a --

      19      either, you know, an architect or an engineer, and

      20      they can actually start enforcing the code, and then

      21      get their certification.

      22             So it allows that flexibility that -- that --

      23      where you're not tied to having somebody that's

      24      actually certified before they start.

      25             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  You think -- you think, in


       1      most cases, uncertified inspectors are people in

       2      other professions, like engineers and architects,

       3      where there's -- where there's either an advanced

       4      level of education or a certification

       5      (indiscernible)?

       6             JOHN ADDARIO:  It could be, but we don't set

       7      the minimum qualifications.

       8             It's up to the municipality, or the civil

       9      service sets it in some --

      10             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Like, from your

      11      experience, as the state agency overseeing this, is

      12      it your experience that -- and generally speaking,

      13      uncertified inspectors are people with, you know,

      14      advanced degrees in training, in architecture and

      15      engineering?  Or do they tend to be more --

      16             ALEXANDRA CHURCH:  They can be from the

      17      construction industry.

      18             They could be -- you know, it varies, it

      19      varies.

      20             Depends on the municipality, and that's,

      21      I think, where the flexibility comes from.

      22             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Does the department of

      23      state have an ability to impose minimal standards on

      24      this?

      25             Would the department of state have the


       1      ability to say, you can't be a inspector for

       2      18 months without being properly certified?

       3             JOHN ADDARIO:  That would take a

       4      legislative -- you know, we'd change -- we'd have to

       5      change the regulations, yes.

       6             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  A rule-making action --

       7             JOHN ADDARIO:  Yes.

       8             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  -- that would be within --

       9             JOHN ADDARIO:  Yes.

      10             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  -- the purview of the

      11      sec -- the department of state?

      12             Okay, I have many more questions.

      13             We do appreciate your testimony today, but

      14      I am going to cut it short, just in -- with respect

      15      to the fact that we have another hearing.

      16             But, thank you.

      17             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Senator Biaggi.

      18             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Thank you, Chairman.

      19             I only have a few questions, but I just want

      20      make sure that I understand clearly what this

      21      process is.

      22             So, the department of state, you said, has no

      23      enforcement of municipalities but they do have

      24      oversight of municipalities.  Correct?

      25             Okay.


       1             No one -- so no enforcement of

       2      municipalities, but does the department of state

       3      have enforcement of these rules and regulations over

       4      the counties?

       5             JOHN ADDARIO:  I guess I don't understand

       6      your --

       7             SENATOR BIAGGI:  So --

       8             JOHN ADDARIO:  -- as far as the reg -- you're

       9      saying the regulations?

      10             SENATOR BIAGGI:  So you have no enforcement

      11      mechanism, right --

      12             JOHN ADDARIO:  Right.

      13             SENATOR BIAGGI:  -- over the municipalities.

      14             But do you have an enforcement mechanism over

      15      the counties?

      16             JOHN ADDARIO:  I guess I don't understand the

      17      question.

      18             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Okay, let me see if I can --

      19             JOHN ADDARIO:  I mean, the counties enforce

      20      the code in -- in -- for their building --

      21      county-owned buildings.

      22             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Okay.  Thank you.

      23             So you also said that the department of state

      24      sets the regulations for enforcement of the uniform

      25      code?


       1             JOHN ADDARIO:  Correct.

       2             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Okay.  And that minimum

       3      standard that you're referring to --

       4             JOHN ADDARIO:  Yes.

       5             SENATOR BIAGGI:  -- is part of that uniform

       6      code?

       7             JOHN ADDARIO:  No, it's separate.

       8             The uniform code, or the actual construction

       9      requirements.  And then what we call is -- the

      10      "minimum standards" are the -- you know, how they

      11      administer and enforce the code.

      12             SENATOR BIAGGI:  So is it a policy or is it a

      13      set of regulations?

      14             JOHN ADDARIO:  It's a set of regulations.

      15             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Okay.

      16             So a little bit earlier the Chairman

      17      mentioned the ratio.

      18             And I am the representative for Mount Vernon,

      19      who just testified before you.  And they are the

      20      municipality that has one code-enforcement officer

      21      to a ratio of 80,000, which is an incredibly high

      22      number.

      23             So you had said that you were not able to

      24      answer the question of what the ratio should be.

      25             So as the director of the division of


       1      building standards and codes, who should I -- who

       2      should I be asking that question to if not you?

       3             JOHN ADDARIO:  Well, I think the -- you know,

       4      the municipality should be able to answer that

       5      question, because we don't -- we're not --

       6             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Well, the municipality was

       7      here, and they were not able to answer that

       8      question.

       9             So I'm asking you, since you are the director

      10      overseeing all of this entire program, who should

      11      I --

      12             JOHN ADDARIO:  I mean, I would agree one does

      13      seem -- I'm concerned with that.

      14             But to say, okay, there should be, you know,

      15      20-to-1, there is no set.

      16             SENATOR BIAGGI:  But don't you think, when

      17      you set -- if you're -- if we're setting minimum

      18      standards in other capacities, don't you think that

      19      we should be setting a minimum standard for the

      20      ratio of representation, considering the fact that

      21      less representation could lead to higher risk and,

      22      therefore, higher incidents of death of firefighters

      23      or of civilians?

      24             JOHN ADDARIO:  I would agree with that, yes.

      25             SENATOR BIAGGI:  So we should set a minimum


       1      standard for a ratio?

       2             And who should make that setting, and

       3      determination?

       4             JOHN ADDARIO:  That would have to be a change

       5      in the regulations.

       6             SENATOR BIAGGI:  So -- so if it's a change in

       7      the regulations, then the department of state has

       8      the ability to change the regulations.

       9             Are you saying that it would be the

      10      department of state that would change the

      11      regulations to set the standards for the ratio, and

      12      that's something perhaps that the Legislature can

      13      count on the department of state to do?

      14             JOHN ADDARIO:  I guess that would be -- you

      15      know, that's something that could be done, yes.

      16             SENATOR BIAGGI:  So how long does it usually

      17      take to set a minimum standard?

      18             JOHN ADDARIO:  To change a regu -- update the

      19      regulations?

      20             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Uh-huh.

      21             JOHN ADDARIO:  You know, it depends on the

      22      rule-making.

      23             You know, it would have to go through the

      24      SAPA process.

      25             SENATOR BIAGGI:  I'm sorry?


       1             JOHN ADDARIO:  It would have to go through

       2      the State Administrative Procedures Act.

       3             SENATOR BIAGGI:  How long -- so how -- what's

       4      an estimated amount of time?

       5             JOHN ADDARIO:  There's a 90-day, there's a

       6      certain period, for public comment.

       7             And then once you do that, then you can go

       8      into, you know, the notice of proposed rule -- you

       9      now, you go, notice of proposed rule-making.  You

      10      can do a public comment period, is part of that.

      11      And then you, you know, basically, set the effective

      12      date of the rule.

      13             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Got it.

      14             So since we all are in agreement, it seems,

      15      that it's a matter of public safety to set ratios

      16      for the number of code-enforcement officers to the

      17      number of people and individuals in a city, can we,

      18      the Legislature, rely on the department of state and

      19      count on the department of state to set that ratio

      20      and to make that a priority?

      21             JOHN ADDARIO:  Again, I'm not sure if we have

      22      the authority.

      23             I'd have to -- I'd have to look.

      24             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Well, you set the

      25      regulations; right?


       1             JOHN ADDARIO:  Right --

       2             SENATOR BIAGGI:  So we've established --

       3             JOHN ADDARIO:  -- for minimum standards.

       4             SENATOR BIAGGI:  -- that the regulations set

       5      the minimum standards.

       6             So this is -- this is a similarly-situated

       7      analogous minimum standard.

       8             And so this is also, again, going back, the

       9      ratio does allow for the reduction of harm, and

      10      also, potentially, deaths.

      11             So I'm asking again, can we have a

      12      commitment, or is there a commitment from the

      13      department of state, to set a minimum standard in

      14      your regulations for this specific issue?

      15             JOHN ADDARIO:  We're open to further

      16      discussions about it, but I can't make a commitment.

      17             SENATOR BIAGGI:  So then can we have a

      18      further discussion about it --

      19             THEODORE W. BEALE:  Yes.

      20             SENATOR BIAGGI:  -- since it affects the area

      21      that I represent?

      22             JOHN ADDARIO:  Yes, definitely.

      23             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Okay.

      24             Thank you very much.

      25             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Anyone else?


       1             Thank you very much.

       2             JOHN ADDARIO:  Thank you.

       3             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Sincerely grateful for you

       4      being here.

       5             Next up, FASNY.

       6             We're on our list, F.J. Spinelli,

       7      Jerry DeLuca, Joe Sauerwein, Travis Dawley.

       8             Is that who's here?

       9             TRAVIS DAWLEY:  We're here.

      10             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay, fantastic.

      11             Welcome.

      12             If you could please rate your right hand.

      13             Do you solemnly swear that you will tell the

      14      truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,

      15      so help you God?

      16                (All witnesses say "Yes.")

      17             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you.

      18             Please proceed.

      19             JERRY DeLUCA:  Chairman Skoufis, Kavanagh,

      20      and members of the Senate Investigation Housing

      21      committees, thank you for the opportunity to present

      22      testimony.

      23             I'm Jerry DeLuca.  I'm the director of

      24      program and outreach for the Firemen's Association

      25      of the State of New York (FASNY).


       1             I'm presenting today on behalf of our

       2      president, Steve Klein, who could not be here.

       3             We also have submitted written testimony

       4      which is more extensive.

       5             FASNY offers testimony today because our

       6      members' best interests, as well as the state's

       7      residents' best interests, are served by having a

       8      strong, well-run, well-executed standard for

       9      building and fire prevention.

      10             Our members and leadership are experts on

      11      this issue and live its realities every day.

      12             Armed with the knowledge we possess, FASNY

      13      urges both committees to take swift and resolute

      14      action.

      15             On January 23, 2005, three firefighters from

      16      FDNY died in the line of duty, a tragedy that has

      17      become known as "Black Sunday."

      18             Two of those fighters died in a Bronx

      19      tenement.

      20             Two of the apartments had been modified,

      21      specifically modified, illegally subdivided, using

      22      new drywall partitions.

      23             Six firefighters on the fourth floor were

      24      trapped when the fire flashed through the door.

      25             And unable to find their way to the fire


       1      escape due to unanticipated barrier walls, they were

       2      left with no choice but to jump from windows from

       3      the fourth floor.

       4             John G. Bellew and

       5      Lieutenant Curtis W. Meyran, who was command

       6      of Ladder Company 27, were killed in this fall.

       7             Brendan Cawley, Jeff Cool, Joe DiBernardo,

       8      and Gene Stolowski suffered severe injuries and

       9      disabilities which ultimately resulted in their

      10      being forced to retire.

      11             The deaths of these firefighters did not have

      12      to occur.

      13             Without question, the construction of illegal

      14      partitions and blocked fire escapes prevented these

      15      brave brothers from being able to escape from this

      16      fire.

      17             In fact, New York State leads the nation in

      18      fire deaths in one- and two-family houses.

      19             Our goal here today is to ask the Legislature

      20      to ensure that no more firefighters die tragic and

      21      needless deaths due to building owners making

      22      changes to homes and apartments that do not conform

      23      to fire prevention and building code.

      24             As you've heard today, code enforcement is

      25      often looked upon as a nuisance, an annoying


       1      requisite of local government, by elected officials,

       2      building owners, prosecutors, and magistrates.

       3             But I'm here to underscore that codes matter.

       4             The Fire Prevention and Building Code, its

       5      name alone tells you why it matters.

       6             Codes are developed and implemented and

       7      enforced to prevent the loss of life, injuries, and

       8      the loss of property.

       9             Just as important as illegal conversions

      10      themselves, is how the system presently deals with

      11      pervasive problem of code violations.

      12             Building owners often see fines as a cost of

      13      doing business.

      14             When illegal modifications are paying tens of

      15      thousands of dollars in rent in a single property,

      16      the fines that are imposed by the system are just

      17      trivial.

      18             There's another significant aspect when it

      19      comes to the enforcement and prosecution of codes,

      20      it's the fact that they're violations.  They're not

      21      crimes.

      22             As not being crimes, they are not prosecuted

      23      by the local district attorney, but by the local

      24      city, village, and town prosecutors.

      25             To addresses these problems, I urge that the


       1      legislature take the following actions:

       2             Establish a statewide tracking system for

       3      code violations.

       4             Increase penalties for repeat violaters that

       5      cross jurisdictions.

       6             Increase fines for a condition found to be an

       7      imminent threat to health and safety.

       8             Increase fines for violations that impede

       9      egress.  That would have saved the lives of those

      10      firefighters.

      11             Authorize municipalities to treat unpaid

      12      fines for building-code and fire-code violations as

      13      unpaid real property taxes.

      14             We heard it discussed here today about LLCs.

      15             Penalize LLCs that illegally convert

      16      property by authorizing the dissolution of the LLC

      17      by the State Supreme Court.

      18             Strengthen the penal code by establishing the

      19      offense of reckless endangerment of a firefighter in

      20      the first and second degree.

      21             Provide training, and ensure training, of

      22      local prosecutors and magistrates on the importance

      23      of code violations.

      24             And, also, ensure the inspections and

      25      follow-up of public and private-school inspections.


       1             Finally, I must address one more important

       2      issue.  You've talked about it, you asked about it,

       3      in your questions a few moments ago, Senator.

       4             The State Code Council makes the code in

       5      New York State, not the Legislature.

       6             The council has seats designated for a

       7      fire-service official and a code-enforcement

       8      official.

       9             Both seats have been vacant for two-plus

      10      years.

      11             I know that.

      12             The gentleman sitting to my left was the last

      13      one to hold the code council seat for the fire

      14      service.

      15             And I was suggested by FASNY to be the next

      16      person.

      17             And for over two years it's been vacant.

      18             I urge that the Senate demand that they be

      19      provided with appointees for both of these important

      20      constituencies.

      21             The fire service and the building officials

      22      must be represented.

      23             The significance of the outcome of this joint

      24      public hearing is hard to overstate.

      25             FASNY commends the Chairs for undertaking


       1      this massive and convoluted topic that is ripe for

       2      reform.

       3             The choices of this committee, moving

       4      forward, will impact all residents of this state and

       5      their personal safety, not just firefighters, as

       6      well as the personal safety of our first responders.

       7             Let us ensure that, moving forward, no

       8      tenant's life is put at risk because they cannot

       9      afford to live in a legal apartment, nor a first

      10      responder's life be put at increased risk because

      11      they responded to an illegally-modified building.

      12             Let us strive to raise our standards for

      13      building ownership, begin to eliminate, once and for

      14      all, all those who value profit over well-being.

      15             Maintaining the status quo is no longer an

      16      option.

      17             This hearing has served as an opportunity to

      18      go on the record on this critical issue.

      19             Now you have heard from our panels of experts

      20      on what needs to be fixed.  The fire service must

      21      demand accountability.

      22             If there are anymore lives lost, we will

      23      publicly question the failure to turn the

      24      suggestions put forth today into meaningful action.

      25             A solution must be accomplished before the


       1      next tragedy.

       2             Thank you, and we appreciate your time.

       3             Mr. Sauerwein.

       4             JOE SAUERWEIN:  Good afternoon, ladies and

       5      gentlemen.

       6             I'm Joe Sauerwein, and I too am here from

       7      FASNY, and I appreciate the opportunity to speak

       8      before you.

       9             I've been a volunteer fireman for more than

      10      54 years, and for 27 of those years I worked for the

      11      Town of Brookhaven doing code enforcement, 19 of

      12      them as the chief fire marshal.

      13             One thing I learned very early on was that

      14      you don't have to do both, but fire fighting and

      15      code enforcement are not mutually exclusive.

      16             You could say I know a thing or two about

      17      code enforcement because I've seen a thing or two

      18      about code enforcement, and one of the things I know

      19      is that the worse the enforcement is, the worse the

      20      fires will be in number and in severity, and that

      21      more innocent people will die in those fires.

      22             Now, I'd like to tell you just a little bit

      23      about the New York State Uniform Code because it's

      24      quite apparent that you individuals are well

      25      familiar with that code.


       1             You have spoken about it extensively and

       2      asked a lot of the right questions.

       3             In the interest of time, this is going to be

       4      short, to the point, and not too sweet.

       5             Is the uniform code broken?

       6             Let's see now.

       7             The primary purpose of the code is to save

       8      lives.

       9             Back in 1980, in Purchase, New York,

      10      probably just an about an hour away from here, the

      11      Stouffer's Inn fired killed 26 innocent victims.

      12             As a result, your predecessors promulgated

      13      the legislation that was the impetus for the very

      14      first New York State Uniform Code.  They made it a

      15      priority.

      16             That "green book," as we called it, became

      17      the law of the land.

      18             Then, in 2002, the State adopted the ICC

      19      family of codes, with some modifications to suit our

      20      needs in New York.

      21             That was a wise decision, because that code

      22      is vetted by thousands, literally, thousands of

      23      people; designers, builders, code enforcers,

      24      firefighters, and building owners as well.

      25             So the answer to the question is, nope, the


       1      code's not broken.

       2             It's not perfect, but it's pretty darned

       3      good.

       4             What is broken is the enforcement of the

       5      code, or more correctly, the lack of enforcement of

       6      the code.

       7             Some code enforcers lack the training, the

       8      certifications, and the qualifications that they

       9      should have.

      10             Of late, it appears that there may be some

      11      remedies for that.

      12             But there are more egregious causes for this

      13      lack of enforcement: municipalities who choose not

      14      to enforce the code.

      15             It's too costly, it's too cumbersome, too

      16      much of a burden on the private sector, or they just

      17      plain don't want to enforce that code.

      18             And, unfortunately, for those situations,

      19      there is no remedy.

      20             There is no meaningful disincentive to those

      21      localities for failing to enforce the law of the

      22      land, or is there?

      23             Is this committee the glimmer of hope that we

      24      have been waiting for and looking for?

      25             We heard today from several communities who


       1      apparently discovered that it would be in their best

       2      interests to enforce the code.

       3             But will it last?

       4             What happens when the monitor leaves?

       5             Will the committee expand its scope?

       6             Does it have the resources and the

       7      wherewithal to continue its work?

       8             And what about the next community that

       9      doesn't cooperate, what happens then?

      10             And please understand, these are rhetorical

      11      questions.

      12             It is not my place to grill you, grill this

      13      fine committee, not at all.

      14             Further, is there any incentive for

      15      municipalities to enforce the code?

      16             There once was.

      17             54-g money used to be provided by the State

      18      to municipalities annually to help with code

      19      enforcement.

      20             Code enforcement is not cheap.

      21             It takes money, people, and resources, and

      22      that 54-g money did help.

      23             But perhaps the ultimate insult to this issue

      24      is what happens when there is enforcement, and the

      25      responsible parties refuse to comply and are


       1      subsequently brought before the courts?

       2             All too many times the result is a mere slap

       3      on the wrist.  A fine of $250 is nothing more than

       4      the cost of doing business.

       5             Pay the garbageman, pay the water bill, oh,

       6      yeah, and pay the court fine too while you're at it.

       7             Some jurisdictions have stiff minimum

       8      penalties, especially for frequent-flyers.

       9             But if you visit a courtroom for some of

      10      these session, you will hear cases where the minimum

      11      penalty is disregarded.

      12             "Too severe," says the judge.

      13             And who's going to argue with the judge?

      14             Sit there a few days and you'll see turnstile

      15      justice in action; the same violators being brought

      16      before the Court for the same violations, at a

      17      different location, or even worse, at the same

      18      location, and getting the same insignificant fines.

      19             Talk about no disincentive.

      20             There's no reason not to violate the code.

      21             So what does all this mean?

      22             This all goes to demonstrate that effective

      23      enforcement of the New York State Uniform Code is

      24      too often not a priority.

      25             It is readily apparent that there are those


       1      at all levels of government, from the top down, who

       2      not only don't place a priority on the uniform code,

       3      they'd just as soon see it all go away.

       4             What do I mean, "readily apparent"?

       5             You heard Mr. DeLuca talk about the Code

       6      Council.

       7             17 members make up the Fire Prevention and

       8      Building Code Council, and there's at least

       9      5 vacancies.

      10             The Fire Prevention and Building Code

      11      Council, two of those vacancies are the fire

      12      official and the building code official, for upwards

      13      of three years.

      14             The code council is the gatekeeper of the

      15      code, to keep it up to date for the benefit of

      16      everyone.

      17             But they struggle to gather a quorum, not

      18      surprising, when almost one-third of their positions

      19      are vacant.

      20             A weak and ineffective division of building

      21      standards and codes, a group of well-meaning

      22      individuals, who I believe are trying to do their

      23      best, yet for some reason, they are unable to

      24      adequately provide training for code enforcers, code

      25      interpretations to code enforcers, builders and


       1      architects, and routine or board variances to

       2      building owners, except on a very limited basis.

       3             The 54-g money for code enforcement, it went

       4      away, stopped, never to be seen again.

       5             I'll bet it's still being collected.

       6             Where is it going?

       7             An attitude by the courts that these are just

       8      code violations, not real criminal acts, temper

       9      justice with mercy, yes, but understand that the

      10      primary function of the code is to save lives.

      11             The code is not broken.

      12             It's the process that needs to get fixed.

      13             We need a process that makes the code a

      14      priority.

      15             I talked about only some of the issues, and

      16      even hinted at some of the possible solutions.

      17             There's no one thing that will cure all of

      18      the ills.

      19             But one thing that will start the ball

      20      rolling in the right direction is for all of us, not

      21      all of you, but all of us; you, your colleagues,

      22      those of us in this room, those of us who couldn't

      23      make it to this room, for all of us, to make

      24      enforcement of the uniform code a priority.

      25             Lacking that, unscrupulous people will


       1      continue to disregard the code.

       2             The fires will continue to rage, and the

       3      supreme injustice, our fellow citizens will continue

       4      to die in fires that didn't need to happen.

       5             And so distressing for me personally, as it

       6      is for the thousands of brothers and sisters across

       7      this great state of ours, firefighters will continue

       8      to die, trying to save them from fires that didn't

       9      need to happen.

      10             I would like to thank you for your time and

      11      attention, and especially thank you for trying to

      12      fix this problem.  It's not an easy task.

      13             And as much as you have accomplished so far,

      14      you have only just begun.

      15             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you.

      16             Do you have remarks as well, each of you?

      17             If you could please summarize, and please

      18      know that submitting written comments, you know,

      19      they are formally accepted and will be reflected in

      20      the record.

      21             But, you know, please, because I know we've

      22      got some questions as well, if you could please

      23      summarize your remarks.

      24             Thank you.

      25             F.J. SPINELLI:  I'll move as fast as


       1      I possibly can many.

       2             My name is F.J. Spinelli.

       3             I'm a deputy chief in the Hartsdale Fire

       4      District down in Westchester County, and reside in

       5      Putnam County, and now in your district.

       6             The purpose of my testimony here today was to

       7      highlight the ongoing issues that we're having as a

       8      training community in code enforcement.

       9             I'm going to refer to the division of

      10      building standards and codes as the "codes division"

      11      from this point forward.

      12             My comments are written and are being

      13      provided to you.

      14             Currently, I serve as the chairman of the

      15      codes committee in the New York State Association of

      16      Fire Chiefs, and as such, was an active participant

      17      in a training workgroup that was convened in 2011 to

      18      establish the minimum standards for code-enforcement

      19      personnel and their training.

      20             To say that I was dismayed when the actual

      21      rule was published, it didn't look anything like the

      22      decisions we had made as a group, and was far more

      23      restrictive.

      24             The requirements of this rule, Part 1208,

      25      include restrictions on who may teach code and what


       1      those code courses are, and what the content of

       2      those codes are.  They are overly restrictive.

       3             One of the options for in-service training

       4      involves you being able to take courses developed

       5      and presented by the department of state.

       6             The director of the codes division has said

       7      that he does not have the staff to support

       8      in-service training, thus leaving this option empty

       9      on an annual basis.

      10             Recently, there was a train-the-trainer

      11      course that was taught to those of us that are

      12      fire-service instructors in Montour Falls in the

      13      month of February.

      14             During that instruction, we were given -- we

      15      were taking a 6-hour class, and we were given the

      16      instruction in one of -- only one of the three

      17      required codes categories.

      18             When I asked the instructor why it wasn't in

      19      at least two of those categories, since we're

      20      required to do this in 3-hour blocks, I was told

      21      that there was no thought put into that.  But when

      22      the program is put online as an online offering, it

      23      would be in two different categories and meet the

      24      needs of the codes community.

      25             That has yet to happen.


       1             When it comes to online programs, which are

       2      supposed to be unlimited, I actually wrote in here,

       3      to say that the online programs that are available

       4      are minimal, and simplistic at best, I compared them

       5      to eating cat litter, because they're that dry.

       6             And, again, I'm trying to paraphrase what we

       7      have here.

       8             There's a requirement that we have 24 hours

       9      of in-service training.

      10             Getting that in-service training comes at

      11      great expense, and it comes at great expense to the

      12      local municipality or to the individual inspector.

      13             You have to attend conferences, conferences

      14      have very large fees.

      15             $300 is a major fee for some municipalities,

      16      but that doesn't include food, lodging, travel, and

      17      all the rest of the things that come with it, not to

      18      mention the fact that these people aren't in the

      19      office for those three days at any given portion of

      20      the week.

      21             There is a problem, there is a serious

      22      problem, when it comes to training in the state of

      23      New York.

      24             There is a requirement that we have

      25      three hours of instruction in the energy


       1      conservation code, annually.

       2             Getting that instruction is unmerciful.

       3             Each of the individual fire-service

       4      organizations that run conferences that involve code

       5      fight for scarce opportunity to have individual

       6      companies come in and teach the energy code.

       7             If that company which you find does not have

       8      NYSERDA funding anymore, does not have State funding

       9      anymore, they charge $1,000 for a 3-hour class.

      10             That's not fair.

      11             It's not fair.

      12             This regulation has shifted a State

      13      responsibility onto the local municipalities, and

      14      nothing is being done about it.

      15             I wrote a letter, which you will have a copy

      16      of, in 2017, asking for the secretary of state to

      17      suspend the training rule, the idea being that this

      18      rule needs to be revisited and changed.

      19             To date, I haven't gotten an answer back.

      20             You asked the question earlier, Senator, as

      21      to whether the division of codes should go to the

      22      office of fire prevention and control.

      23             The office of fire prevention and control is

      24      headed by the State fire administrator, who's also

      25      the chief fire marshal in the state of New York, yet


       1      he has no authority to administer the codes.

       2             I firmly believe that the codes division

       3      needs to come out of the department of state, and go

       4      to the office of fire prevention and control within

       5      DHSCS, so that we can get adequate training, so that

       6      they can have the staff that they need to develop

       7      programs, so that we have worthwhile programs and

       8      educational programs for the people who are trying

       9      to enforce the code to the best of our abilities.

      10             TRAVIS DAWLEY:  I'll try to keep mine quick.

      11             My name is Travis Dawley.

      12             I'm the president of the New York State Fire

      13      Marshals and Inspectors Association.

      14             Thank you for the opportunity today.

      15             Two topics I wanted to cover is our code

      16      adoption process.

      17             Right now the New York State Code Council

      18      adopts it through the Executive Law.

      19             The code council's obligation is to maintain,

      20      periodically update, the Uniform Fire Prevention

      21      Building Code, State Energy Conservation Code, and

      22      to adopt higher and more restrictive standards upon

      23      the recommendation of the local governments.

      24             We currently also pass laws through

      25      legislative process.


       1             When they're passed through the legislative

       2      process, it defeats the purpose of the code council

       3      and contradicts items that are already in the code.

       4             Right now we currently adopt the ICC, and

       5      then amend it.

       6             The ICC, as previously stated, is rigorously

       7      reviewed by multiple agencies all across the U.S,

       8      and adopted by government agencies all across the

       9      world.

      10             Through this process, New York takes their

      11      published code, that is already defined as what I'm

      12      going to consider, personally, as a minimum-code

      13      standard, and we then remove portions of that code

      14      to fit New York State.

      15             The removing of portions is not necessarily

      16      for the best interest of the people of New York.  It

      17      might be for the best interest of individual

      18      organizations.

      19             An example of this is the international

      20      residential code had a requirement for sprinklers.

      21             Under our previous version of the code, we

      22      had no requirement for sprinklers in houses, but you

      23      had to have a one-hour separation between a garage

      24      and your living space.

      25             When we adopted the 2015 I-codes, and then


       1      amended them, we removed all requirements for the

       2      sprinklers that were already defined as a part of

       3      the minimum standard.

       4             In doing so, they never put back a

       5      requirement that then requires a fire-rated wall

       6      between your garage space and your house.

       7             So as new properties are built today, you

       8      have no time delay if a fire is to occur in your

       9      garage.

      10             I best put this as an example of, when I was

      11      in college, we used to joke that you could get a D

      12      in a class and still graduate because you got the

      13      minimum amount required in that.

      14             When we take and remove the minimum-amount

      15      requirements, in my opinion, that's an F in the

      16      class.

      17             The other problem occurring is, when we're

      18      passing through legislative process, it's not

      19      looking at the overall conjunction.

      20             A good example of this one is when we passed

      21      the residential and commercial CO laws.

      22             We have two laws that have information, both

      23      applying to residential properties, that contradict

      24      each other of the requirements.

      25             I don't think this was done in haste.


       1             It was, just, we react very quickly as a

       2      state when there's a tragedy that occurs.

       3             When trying to put anything through a proper

       4      process and make sure that the I's are dotted and

       5      T's are crossed takes a extremely long time, but has

       6      implications when not followed.

       7             We are currently in the process of,

       8      hopefully, adopting a new code in the next six

       9      months.

      10             I have significant concerns that this will

      11      never happen with the current lack of bodies on the

      12      code council.

      13             If one person is absent from that, you don't

      14      have a quorum to vote.

      15             Under the legislative laws, that code council

      16      is supposed to meet four times a year, once a

      17      quarter.

      18             There has been cases in the past year or two

      19      in which the meetings are canceled days before

      20      because they don't have enough for a quorum.

      21             Quick, in summary:

      22             I think our system is broken.

      23             I believe it can be fixed.

      24             We need to have the necessary people

      25      appointed to the code council, fill the seats, and


       1      do the job that they're appointed to do.

       2             It would be my recommendation, that when the

       3      legislatures do feel the need to pass a law that

       4      will impact the code enforcement, that it be done in

       5      a manner in conjunction with the code council, so

       6      that the two can work together and properly

       7      institute the code, so it can be reviewed as each

       8      new series comes out.

       9             The main idea behind this is, if you pass a

      10      (indiscernible) legislation through executive

      11      processes, when we go to adopt the next section of

      12      code, we're currently receiving what is known as the

      13      New York State Uniform Code Supplement.

      14             The current manual is 208 pages of

      15      amendments.

      16             Those are the amendments that are modifying

      17      the published code as provided by the ICC.

      18             With those amendments, it's removing stuff to

      19      make it less restrictive, it's adding things making

      20      it more restrictive, and it's including the

      21      requirements of the executive laws because there's

      22      no other way to have them incorporated.

      23             Thank you.

      24             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you very much.

      25             I don't have any questions.


       1             I'll just make one remark before turning it

       2      over to anyone who does have questions, and that is,

       3      first, thank you again for not only your testimony,

       4      but for what you do, and what your brothers and

       5      sisters do throughout the state each day.

       6             And I know that I, and I think I can safely

       7      say, our committees are committed to advancing

       8      recommendations, legislation, whatever form it may

       9      take, to try and make your job safer, and to try and

      10      protect the people you're trying to protect a little

      11      bit safer as well.

      12             I will just, the one item I do want to

      13      comment on, is that, to the point that was made a

      14      number of times, I will, and I suspect I will be

      15      joined by a number of like-minded colleagues, I will

      16      be demanding that the Governor does advance

      17      nominations to fill those vacancies on the code

      18      council by the end of our legislative session.

      19             Thank you.

      20             Who has questions?

      21             Senator Biaggi.

      22             SENATOR BIAGGI:  Thank you.

      23             Thank you, Chairman.

      24             I echo everything that our Chairman just

      25      said, and I will second that all of the appointments


       1      on the code council must be filled.

       2             I have to say that I'm, like, irate from what

       3      I've heard, and I feel an incredible sense of

       4      urgency.

       5             And I want each and every one of you to know

       6      that you have been heard.

       7             We hear you, and we are committed, in the

       8      stead of our Chairman, to do what we can, whatever

       9      we can, to make this problem better and to

      10      ultimately solve it.

      11             This is unacceptable for our government.

      12             It's unacceptable.

      13             And I'm just almost incredulous that this

      14      could even be the case.

      15             Our -- our first responders are the most --

      16      some of the most important individuals in our

      17      society.

      18             And making sure that these laws are followed,

      19      and making sure that these seats are filled, is

      20      actually the action to take to prove that we

      21      actually value you.

      22             So we value you, and we will make sure that

      23      action is taken.

      24             Thank you so much.

      25             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Senator Salazar.


       1             SENATOR SALAZAR:  First, thank you all for

       2      your testimony.

       3             I have sort of a clarifying question about

       4      the code council and having quorum to vote.

       5             Is this by statute that they need full

       6      attendance in order to have quorum to vote, or is it

       7      actually due to vacancies on the council that --

       8      that it's like a percentage?

       9             JOE SAUERWEIN:  Well, there has to be.

      10             Any decision on the council has to be by a

      11      majority.

      12             SENATOR SALAZAR:  Certainly.

      13             JOE SAUERWEIN:  But not a majority of those

      14      present and voting, a majority of the council

      15      members.

      16             So if you have those five vacancies, that's

      17      five strikes against you.

      18             SENATOR SALAZAR:  Right.

      19             JOE SAUERWEIN:  One guy gets sick, another

      20      guy has another commitment (motions).

      21             JERRY DeLUCA:  Also, if you'll note, there

      22      are no legislative appointees on the code council.

      23             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thanks for that note.

      24             Senator Kavanagh.

      25             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Yeah, I'll just -- I'll


       1      just wrap -- we will follow up with you, and we

       2      appreciate your testimony.

       3             And I just will note that we're gonna --

       4      we're trying to wrap up because we have another --

       5      our second hearing in this room was supposed to

       6      begin more than an hour ago, and I know we have many

       7      witnesses who are here for that.

       8             So we appreciate it, and we will follow up.

       9             And I will certainly join my Co-Chair of this

      10      event in requesting that the Governor, you know,

      11      make those appointments as soon as possible, and

      12      follow up on many of the other issues you raised

      13      today.

      14             But thank you so much.

      15             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you very much.

      16             Okay, next up we have New York State Building

      17      Officials Conference.

      18             We're going to try to move quickly.

      19             We have two more, this one and one more.

      20             Okay, thank you for being here.

      21             The names I have are, Chris Jensen,

      22      president; Mark Schwarz, first vice president;

      23      Eric Famiglietti, second vice president.

      24             Is that who's here?

      25             UNIDENTIFIED WITNESS:  Yes.


       1             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Very good.

       2             Thank you.

       3             Can I have you raise your right hands?

       4             Do you solemnly swear that you'll tell the

       5      truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,

       6      so help you God?

       7                (All witnesses say "I do.")

       8             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you.

       9             If I may respectfully ask that you try and

      10      consolidate your remarks into one person?

      11             So can one --

      12             CHRIS JENSEN:  Most of FASNY has, pretty

      13      much, said what a lot of our remarks are.

      14             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay, so who -- who will be

      15      making the remarks on behalf of the panel?

      16             CHRIS JENSEN:  I'll speak.

      17             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay, thank you.

      18             CHRIS JENSEN:  My name is Chris Jensen.

      19             I'm a New York State-registered professional

      20      engineer, ICC master code professional, the only one

      21      in New York State;

      22             An interior firefighter for my hometown;

      23             I'm a code-enforcement officer for the Town

      24      of Canandaigua and the Town of Bristol within the

      25      Finger Lakes region;


       1             I'm president of the New York State Building

       2      Officials, the parent chapter of over 19 regional

       3      building official chapters, consisting of thousands

       4      of code officials throughout the entire state of

       5      New York.

       6             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  (Inaudible) if you're

       7      having conversations, can you please just take them

       8      outside.  There's a big echo in this room.

       9             Thank you.

      10             Sorry.

      11             CHRIS JENSEN:  Thanks for having us here

      12      today.

      13             The issues that have been discussed in many

      14      of our NYSBOC delegate meetings are:

      15             Lack of support at the State level, generally

      16      due to lack of staffing at the State level;

      17             Lack of funding from the State;

      18             Lack of representation at the State level;

      19      the code council, variance boards;

      20             The inability of local municipalities to

      21      financially support code-enforcement functions,

      22      training, code books, software, violations,

      23      remedies, court costs, legal fees;

      24             And the lack of overall guidance and

      25      structure from the State level.


       1             The main purpose of all the NYSBOC chapters

       2      is to provide a pure network for its members, to

       3      provide assistance to one another in performance of

       4      their duties, and to conduct training programs to

       5      meet their yearly training requirements.

       6             We really exist because we had to create our

       7      own support structure and provide the necessary

       8      training to our own members.

       9             We're not provided resources like the other

      10      law-enforcement agencies in the state.

      11             I can touch on the 54-g money.

      12             Around 1982, Section 9108 of the New York

      13      State Insurance Law, and Section 54-g of New York

      14      State Finance Law, provides that all monies

      15      collected from a fee imposed by commercial fire

      16      insurance shall be used for State aid to

      17      municipalities.

      18             They were supposed to be distributed to the

      19      municipalities.

      20             But since 1991, none of these funds have been

      21      distributed.

      22             They're still being collected.  They're sums

      23      of 20 -- 12 to 20 million dollars per year.

      24             Again, to reiterate on a lot of the points:

      25             There are processes in places, there's laws


       1      in place.

       2             The local municipalities, it's a home-rule

       3      state, so they adopt their local laws, they adopt

       4      the fines, they adopt they're going to do the --

       5      enforce the code.

       6             Ratio, I would say, should have one

       7      code-enforcement officer for every 10,000 residents,

       8      about that.

       9             I mean, I work for a municipality that has

      10      12,000 residents.

      11             We have two code-enforcement officers, but we

      12      also take care of flood plain, MS4 program, zoning

      13      codes, and stuff like that.

      14             So, anyways, I'll close on that.

      15             And I don't know if you guys have any other


      17             Mostly everything was touched on by the FASNY

      18      guys.

      19             UNIDENTIFIED WITNESS:  I just think that it

      20      is very crucial for the filling of the vacancies,

      21      because it's not just the vacancies on that.

      22             There's also regional boards, and there's

      23      five regional variance boards, which have lack of

      24      seats fulfilled.  And that causes delays in the

      25      municipal grants of the variance processes.


       1             So even that, it's not just a regular code

       2      council.

       3             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you.

       4             I just have one question.

       5             How many building officials are there in

       6      New York State?  Do you have a number?

       7             CHRIS JENSEN:  I would say, we have a list of

       8      about 8,000 members that are just part of NYSBOC and

       9      the 19 different chapters.  And those are members of

      10      our organizations that pay, I don't know, we're like

      11      a $100 a year to be a member.  And then if you go to

      12      our conferences, it's $365.

      13             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Are most building officials

      14      members?

      15             I'm just trying to get a sense of where we

      16      are now, building officials, versus where you think

      17      we need to be, what the number ought to be, in

      18      New York State.

      19             CHRIS JENSEN:  I would say a ratio of one for

      20      every 10,000 people in a municipality.

      21             As far as, how many there are in

      22      New York State?

      23             Like, you spoke earlier to one of the towns,

      24      "We have one person," they said, "and we'd like to

      25      hire two."


       1             That town should have eight, I think.

       2             I mean, I'm being honest.

       3             It's -- but they don't have the funds to, and

       4      it all comes down to money.

       5             I'm sure they'd love to have eight, but where

       6      is that coming from?  Where are they getting

       7      support?  And are they getting trained people?

       8             They touched on, you could work for 18 months

       9      without training, it's a civil service.

      10             Yeah, there are flaws in the system, but the

      11      codes there, and the laws are there, on -- I'm

      12      not -- my town's great.  They support me, everything

      13      I do.

      14             But, there are a lot of towns that do not.

      15             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you.

      16             Anyone have any questions?

      17             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  No, I'll just defer,

      18      given -- again, given the very late hour for our

      19      prior -- or, our next hearing, that we're more than

      20      an hour late.

      21             But I appreciate your testimony.

      22             We will review it, and probably follow up

      23      with you with additional --

      24             CHRIS JENSEN:  As far as vacancies on the

      25      code council, we have put forth names, and stuff.


       1             They've never actually asked for names.

       2             We've put forth names, and stuff.

       3             So if you have our contact information for

       4      NYSBOC, please call us.

       5             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  When did you do that, when

       6      did you put forward those names?  Do you remember?

       7             CHRIS JENSEN:  Oh, once every six months, for

       8      the past three years.

       9             I mean --

      10             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Unbelievable.

      11             Well, okay.

      12             Thank you.

      13             CHRIS JENSEN:  -- they've been trying to go

      14      through -- but contact us.

      15             We'll have a vote among us to pick someone to

      16      put forward to you, to place on the council.

      17             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you very much.

      18             CHRIS JENSEN:  Same with FASNY, I believe.

      19             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  And thanks for what you do

      20      as well.

      21             CHRIS JENSEN:  Thank you.

      22             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Okay, we have reached the

      23      conclusion here.

      24             If she's still here, Elizabeth Zeldin,

      25      director, Enterprise / Cities Rise.


       1             Thank you very much for your patience.

       2             ELIZABETH ZELDIN:  (Inaudible), and I'll talk

       3      quickly.

       4             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  If I -- just to be

       5      consistent, can you please raise your right hand?

       6             Do you solemnly swear that you'll tell the

       7      truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,

       8      so help you God?

       9             ELIZABETH ZELDIN:  I do.

      10             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you.

      11             ELIZABETH ZELDIN:  Hi.

      12             My name is Elizabeth Zeldin, and I'm director

      13      of Neighborhood Impact with Enterprise Community

      14      Partners, a non-profit affordable-housing

      15      organization that's worked to create and preserve

      16      affordable housing here and nationwide for over

      17      30 years.

      18             Since our New York office opened in 1987,

      19      we've committed nearly $3.6 billion in equity loans

      20      and grants to help create or preserve over

      21      63,000 affordable homes for over 167,000 residents

      22      across the state.

      23             On behalf of Enterprise, I would like to

      24      thank Chairs Skoufis, Kavanagh, and the State

      25      Investigations and Government Operations Committee


       1      for convening this hearing on code enforcement

       2      today.

       3             In 2017, Enterprise Community Partners

       4      launched the Cities Rise program, cities for

       5      responsible investment and strategic enforcement, in

       6      partnership with the New York State Attorney

       7      General's Office.

       8             This ground-breaking program provides

       9      16 participating municipalities with the

      10      data-analytics platform, BuildingBlocks, integrating

      11      existing municipal data into one comprehensive,

      12      interactive database with mapping capabilities.

      13             Each municipality received technical

      14      assistance from leading experts in the field, and

      15      engaged in peer-to-peer exchange, all with the goal

      16      of making code-enforcement activities more

      17      strategic, proactive, and equitable.

      18             Ten of the original municipalities are now

      19      participating in Phase 2 of the program, receiving

      20      deeper one-on-one technical assistance from staff at

      21      the Ash Center for Innovation at Harvard University,

      22      as well as guidance on community engagement around

      23      code enforcement from Hester Street Collaborative.

      24             This summer, the Phase 2 municipalities will

      25      be submitting applications for innovation grants to


       1      implement their best ideas on strategic and

       2      equitable code enforcement.

       3             Enterprise looks forward to seeing these

       4      ideas come to fruition.

       5             So Cities Rise was funded through bank

       6      settlements negotiated by the New York State Office

       7      of the Attorney General.

       8             These are one-time funds which we're

       9      deploying to demonstrate new models and best

      10      practices.

      11             We're hopeful that some of the innovations

      12      will be sustained through other sources of revenue,

      13      both local and State.

      14             An important lesson we've learned is that

      15      different solutions are needed for different

      16      scenarios.

      17             A well-meaning, but under-resourced landlord

      18      could benefit from assistance in the form of repair

      19      grants, counseling, or simply guidance through

      20      existing programs and resources.

      21             To support the needs of these landlords,

      22      Enterprise recently announced the launch of our

      23      Upstate Landlord Ambassador Program, which will

      24      build on a successful pilot from New York City, and

      25      support five to six non-profit affordable-housing


       1      developers across the state, to identify small-scale

       2      landlords and walk them through the process of

       3      existing affordable-housing programs to stabilize

       4      their properties.

       5             While we're excited about this initiative,

       6      the program can only succeed when there are programs

       7      available to meet landlord needs.

       8             And there are currently not enough State

       9      resources to fund repairs for one- to four-family

      10      homes.

      11             We urge the state Legislature to explore ways

      12      of supporting this important stock of rental housing

      13      affordable to households of low and moderate income.

      14             For the population of landlords who put

      15      little effort into maintaining their housing stock,

      16      the tools needed to improve the housing should look

      17      different.

      18             The municipalities need additional resources

      19      to enforce code violations, including out --

      20      building out a stronger legal team and bolstering

      21      the court system.

      22             Of course, enforcement of rental-housing

      23      codes can only work well when tenants have the

      24      freedom to work directly with code-enforcement

      25      officers without fear of retribution.


       1             Enterprise urges the state Legislature to

       2      pass good-cause eviction legislation to empower

       3      tenants to improve their own housing.

       4             OFF-CAMERA SPEAKER:  (Inaudible.)

       5             ELIZABETH ZELDIN:  Yeah, exactly (motions).

       6             Finally, all code-enforcement work should be

       7      undertaken under the fair-housing lens.

       8             Strategic, proactive code enforcement must

       9      evaluate whether resources are allocated equitably,

      10      and whether code actions disproportionately affect

      11      different populations.

      12             This level of analysis requires dedicated

      13      time and is difficult to accomplish in a reactive

      14      under-resourced environment.

      15             Cities Rise municipalities are doing their

      16      very best to improve conditions in their

      17      communities, given constrained resources throughout

      18      the state.

      19             One very important way the State could

      20      support the work of the municipalities, improving

      21      their code-enforcement practices, is to provide

      22      funding directly for code-enforcement work.

      23             Enterprise is happy to assist the Legislature

      24      in crafting parameters for potential grant awards,

      25      which could range, from building out a stronger


       1      legal and court system, to enforce existing codes,

       2      to deepening analytic capability among municipal

       3      staff, to creating low-cost repair programs to help

       4      landlords and homeowners make necessary fixes, to

       5      building out a stronger network of counselors and

       6      social-service providers to help residents caught up

       7      in code actions.

       8             Thank you very much for your time.

       9             We look forward to continuing to work with

      10      the Legislature, and ensure that New Yorkers across

      11      the state have access to safe, high-quality

      12      affordable homes.

      13             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Thank you very much for

      14      your testimony.

      15             I suspect that we'll be following up.

      16             ELIZABETH ZELDIN:  Happy.

      17             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  And much of what you said

      18      is also a natural and nice segue into what we're

      19      about to start talking about.

      20             But before, I just want to check, does anyone

      21      have any questions?

      22             Neil?

      23             You're all good?

      24             SENATOR MYRIE:  Can I just say?

      25             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  Yes.


       1             SENATOR MYRIE:  Thank you for your patience.

       2             ELIZABETH ZELDIN:  No problem.

       3             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  And thank you very much.

       4             ELIZABETH ZELDIN:  All right, thank you.

       5             SENATOR KAVANAGH:  Just before we conclude,

       6      you know, thank you, and thank you, all the

       7      witnesses, and also the folks who are here for the

       8      next hearing.

       9             We did -- you know, we've been here since

      10      9:30, and had, you know, testimony on a lot of very

      11      important issues, including, already, several people

      12      testifying on good cause.

      13             The folks that run, you know, the tech

      14      operation of this, that make sure that people who

      15      are not in this room can see it, need about

      16      five minutes to switch gears so we can begin the

      17      next hearing.

      18             So we will begin promptly, as soon as we

      19      adjourn this, in about five minutes.

      20             So, with that, that's -- I thank my Co-Chair

      21      of this event, James Skoufis, and, again, all the

      22      staff that put so much work into today, and all the

      23      people who have testified.

      24             And I'll leave it at that.

      25             Thank you.


       1             SENATOR SKOUFIS:  And I'll just echo, I want

       2      to thank Senator Kavanagh and my colleagues who are

       3      here and our two committees.

       4             There is more to come, and it will be coming

       5      shortly.

       6             We heard a lot of good testimony today, and

       7      now we look forward to doing something about it.

       8             Thanks, everyone.


      10                (Whereupon, the public hearing concluded,

      11        and adjourned.)


      13                           ---oOo---