Hearing On Illegal Housing And Code Enforcement

NEWBURGH – The Senate Investigations Committee heard testimony Thursday about code enforcement, violations and proposed fixes during a public hearing in the City of Newburgh.
When Committee Chairman James Skoufis (D, Woodbury) announced his investigation several weeks ago, he noted many code violations in that city.

At Thursday’s hearing, the president of the Orange County Landlords Association was criticized by state representatives for providing what they perceived as an inadequate testimony, one that may represent issues specific to the city regarding tenancy and landlord accountability.

State Senate members, led by Skoufis, chairman of the Investigations and Government Operations Committee and Chairman of the Housing Committee, Brian Kavanagh, (D-26), held the hearing regarding the state of building code enforcement, with a large focus on landlord accountability, safety and housing conditions.

When Orange County Landlords Association President Michael Acevedo was asked by Skoufis, following his testimony, how many prior violations he had, Acevedo changed his story rapidly, beginning with only one violation, then to two, then to two that required court appearance.
“The only violation that I had in the past was from the rental agreement, other than the fact that I had grass that was a little high,” Acevedo said. “That was it. I don’t recall having many violations, going to court for violations.”

The Senate committee later revealed that Acevedo had 247 violations and 264 complaints over a 13-year period, information gathered from the Building Blocks system through the state Attorney General’s office and corroborated by City of Newburgh Manager Joseph Donat.
Kavanagh said the testimony worked against the goals of the hearing process.

“We are seeking the perspective of landlords, as we do in all of our deliberations,” said Kavanagh. “It’s very difficult to do that when the association of landlords, for an entire county of our state, declines to give us forthright testimony, or sends us representatives that assert that they can’t remember the most basic of facts about their own experiences as landlords.”

Acevedo disputed the information and said he had only paid approximately $200 in fines during his time as a landlord, which highlights an issue specific to the City of Newburgh, where Acevedo said he rents approximately 12 properties.

According to City of Newburgh Corporation Council Attorney Michelle Kelson, fines are only issued following a court appearance; however, many violations don’t make it to court if they are resolved. Additionally, she said it is not uncommon for landlords to fail to appear in court if they are summoned. So, it could be possible many violations go without consequence as long as they are fixed.

Senator David Carlucci (D-38) said he thinks this system encourages landlords to not abide by code regulations and disregard the state of their buildings.

“That’s what it sounds like, that the cost of doing business that the landlords have associated in that, well catch me if you can and then if so, I can rectify it,” said Carlucci.

“So, there’s no real concern for the welfare of the tenants, no real leverage that the government, code enforcement can put on the landlord.”

Newburgh City officials suggested to the Senate committees that mandatory fining may be a solution to providing landlords an incentive to stay on top of the condition of their properties.
Over the last year and a half, Newburgh’s approximately 6,500 buildings have accrued 3,600 violations. It is not clear how many of those violations have resulted in any sort of fine or charges.

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