The Village of Mastic Beach is cracking down on squatter homes and the people who illegally occupy them.
Public safety officers have removed squatters from 13 homes under Operation Take Back, which began in July and is continuing, Village Mayor Maura Spery announced during a Wednesday morning news conference.
"We're going after law breakers. We are no longer going to sit back here and let people break the law," the mayor said. "These houses are public safety disasters. It's a privilege to live in our community."
By using affidavits from homeowners whose residences have been occupied by squatters, and with assistance from the Suffolk County Police Department and the Suffolk County Water Authority, the occupants were removed before they were able to establish residency, village officials said.
Under New York State's real property law, anyone living in a residence for 30 days or more is considered a tenant and can only be removed through a court eviction proceeding, which can take six months or longer, officials say.
Squatters first must be given a 10-day notice to "quit" the property. If he or she doesn't leave, the matter moves into the local district court. The case usually begins within weeks, but there can be delays and that can take months, officials said.
Spery said many of the homes that had been occupied by squatters are uninhabitable and unsafe. In one instance, she said, a squatter was living in an illegal basement room next to a propane tank, which was hooked up to a hot water tank with exposed live wires.
Suffolk County Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) attended the news conference. Many of these squatters know they can move in for free and not pay rent, she said, adding, "That cannot be tolerated."
She noted that some squatters illegally tap into a home's electricity to have power.
Village officials say bank foreclosures on properties along with hundreds of homes that were damaged by superstorm Sandy in October 2012 have given squatters ample places and opportunity to illegally move into many abandoned properties.
While the crackdown continues, village officials estimate Mastic Beach has roughly 500 abandoned homes, meaning squatters still have many properties they can try to occupy.
Officials say quality-of-life concerns in the village are a top priority in the effort to remove squatters from abandoned homes. They said the crackdown is also necessary to maintain safe and legal housing in the village.
Squatters can make problems for residents near abandoned homes, including loud noise, gang activity, prostitution and drug abuse. The squatters often damage homes, remove anything of value and make the house unsafe for first responders or neighborhood children who might venture inside, village officials said.
Spery said she is prepared to press the effort.
"We will continue to chase after you," she said of the squatters.