20 Aug 2014
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Romaine Pledges More Enforcement Against Illegal Housing

Hot-button issue has many in Three Village concerned; town supervisor responds.

Romaine Pledges More Enforcement Against Illegal Housing

Newly elected town supervisor Ed Romaine on Monday said he will devote more town resources to fighting illegal housing, a hot-button topic in Three Village.

His pledge, given at the monthly meeting of the Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook Monday night, was met with applause.

"I’m not a fan of illegal housing because it allows some people who don’t want to live by the rules to enrich themselves at their neighbors’ expense," Romaine said. "... We will be starting a far more vigorous enforcement effort. This is something that I don’t think the town has done enough of."

He said not only will the effort improve quality-of-life for residents, but it will also bring in revenue from fines to the cash-strapped town. He said the town's new chief-of-staff, Garrett Swensen, will be tasked with finding ways to handle more resident complaints by either using overtime or part-time help on the evenings and weekends.

"We want to make sure that there is a response," Romaine said.

According to David J. Moran, deputy town attorney, in 2008 the town took in about $328,000 in fines related to housing code violations. He said that number grew to $800,000 in 2010 and surpassed $1,100,000 in 2012.

"If you blow up their business model, the business model has to change," Moran told the Civics crowd, referring to some landlords' illegal practices. "Every time we find something new, we seek a code amendment … to change our weapons."

One such code amendment, Moran said, was a measure introduced in 2012 by Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld that altered the town's formal definition of 'family' in the town housing code and put the burden of proof on the landlord. Fiore-Rosenfeld said cases brought forward under that new law are "percolating through the district court right now."

However, when asked if the process of enforcement could be made more transparent by putting more information online, Moran said it would likely not be possible.

"It’s tough putting this kind of thing on the internet," he said. "One thing we never want to do is tip our cards."

At least one resident praised the work the Town of Brookhaven has been doing regarding illegal housing as of late. Anthony DeRosa attended a hearing last week related to a landlord who had acted unlawfully and said he was impressed with what he saw.

"I was glad to hear the town is fining them and continuing to follow up," he said.

Romaine also suggested housing may be a possible topic of discussion when he meets with Stony Brook University President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. next week for the first time, as the town's Law Department has already identified a number of homes being illegally rented out to college students in the Three Village area.

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