Members of the New York state Senate Investigations Committee expressed in a 143-page report they found numerous shortcomings by state and local governments during a six-month code enforcement investigation.
The investigation focused on code enforcement policies and procedures in Ramapo, Albany, Newburgh, and Mount Vernon. The committee is now trying to help fix the problems with more resources and new legislation.
"My reaction? That's awesome," said Kennethia Jones, who until April lived unknowingly with her family in a condemned home on Benkard Avenue.
The property, owned by a limited liability company (LLC), was condemned twice by the city before the family ever moved in. When Spectrum News looked into the Jones' living situation, code enforcement officials told reporters they struggled to find the owner, Joe Rabess, to hold him responsible.
The committee report authors said legislation awaiting the governor's signature would help. S1730, sponsored by Committee Chairman Senator James Skoufis (D - District #39), would force landlords to include their own names, not just their LLCs, when buying property.
"It's great," Jones said while outside her new apartment, just a block from her former condemned home. "It's good they can't hide behind the LLC."
In an interview Tuesday morning, Skoufis said the bill "will remedy one of the components to this problem."
The committee found the city code enforcement department had been using an inadequate recordkeeping system, had a lack of code enforcement officers, had received inadequate training, and suffers from "an overall lack of resources."
The committee's recommendations regarding all four communities include: to allocate more state funds to hire more code enforcement officers, to establish higher minimum fines to persuade compliance from landlords, and to pass the legislation to close the "LLC Loophole."
Skoufis said as the investigation progressed, committee members noticed a more concerted code enforcement effort at the local level.
He hopes to get similar reactions from state agencies who are supposed to oversee code enforcement statewide. Skoufis said he would like to see the state restart its own code enforcement monitoring program.
"The overall problem is this systematic failure of state governments, right down to most local governments to effectively prioritize code enforcement," Skoufis said. "This is a health issue, this is a safety issue, this is a quality of life issue. It's not getting nearly the attention it deserves."
Newburgh Mayor Torrance Harvey said on Tuesday he hopes the committee found through its investigation, the city's code enforcement department with just four full-time employees was dangerously understaffed — considering Newburgh's approximately 700 vacant buildings.
"As far as getting all our buildings up to code and do all the proper inspections," Harvey said, "it's going to be a big effort. We're going to need 20 to 25 [code enforcement officers] to get a look at all these abandoned buildings. The state and federal government is going to have to partner with us."