Landlords caught violating Southampton Town's rental law have been forced to face the judge in recent months, as a code enforcement crackdown netted hefty fines.
Over the past three months, Southampton Town attorneys have wrapped up seven cases involving 13 properties -- resulting in almost $30,000 in fines.
Defendants, officials say, were charged with violating Southampton Town's rental code. Passed in 2006, the rental law, which was sponsored by Councilman Chris Nuzzi and then Supervisor Skip Heaney, requires landlords to obtain a permit before renting space to tenants.
A permit can only be issued after a successful safety inspection, to ensure rental meets code requirements.
Failure to comply constitutes a misdemeanor in Southampton Town justice court; offenders can face steep penalties of up to $8000 for a first time offense and up to $15,000 for subsequent convictions, as well as the possibility of imprisonment.
Nuzzi credited town prosecutors and the return of the housing and quality of life task force to the successful convictions during recent summer months. The task force was February by Nuzzi and Councilwoman Christine Preston Scalera with an eye toward clamping down on illegal rentals and substandard housing; it was initially created in 2006 with a resolution sponsored by Nuzzi and Heaney and later went defunct.
“The ultimate goal is to bring rental properties into compliance for the sake of the tenant’s safety and the integrity of the neighborhood, but in the meantime the law gives us the ability to hit greedy landlords directly in their pocketbooks," Nuzzi said. "Our attorneys have been stepping up their efforts and moving more expeditiously towards obtaining convictions and fines.”
Most recently, two property owners in Hampton Bays who did not have the required rental permits pleaded guilty to a number of code enforcement violations; each paid $3000 in fines.
In July, a landlord was charged with five counts of not having a rental permit for properties on Canoe Place Road and another on Foster Avenue in Hampton Bays -- and paid fines of $8000.
Crackdowns in June brought in approximately $12,500 in fines for homes being utilized as rentals without permits in Tuckahoe, North Sea, and Noyac. One landlord who divided a single family residence into three apartments was slapped with $9000 of those fines.
Code enforcement efforts have also focused on Riverside and Flanders in the past, with one homeowner charged with operating an illegal rental at his property.
The housing and quality of life task force makes recommendations regarding enforcement actions, town code amendments, and procedural changes related to housing and quality of life issues.
The group meets at least once monthly and includes representation from the town attorney's office, town police, code enforcement, building and zoning, environmental representatives, building and zoning, the fire marshals, justice court, and members of the town board.
“The task force helps ensure that effective code enforcement doesn’t end with a summons,” said Scalera. “It involves all the players seeing these cases through the system and bringing them to an effective conclusion.”