3 North Hempstead villages step up code enforcement, reap rewards
Three villages in North Hempstead have stepped up enforcement of local codes and are seeing large increases in revenue from fines as a result.
East Hills saw fees collected from code violations rise 113 percent in the past two years, to nearly $55,000 for 2013 from nearly $26,000 in 2012. Overall, the village court has collected more than $500,000 in each of the past four years, most of it coming from traffic fines shared with the state.
In Roslyn Estates, officials have hired a part-time code officer -- the village's first -- to work on weekends and during the week to increase enforcement efforts. He is most valuable Saturdays, a day construction is not allowed in the village, Mayor Jeff Schwartzberg said. The village collected about $12,000 in code violations from June 1, 2013, until the end of January, up from nearly $3,600 in the budget year of June 1, 2012, to May 31, 2013. Fines for code violations totaled nearly $3,900 in the previous budget year.
Old Westbury enacted tougher code violation penalties in December. It can now collect as much as $10,000 a day for some code violations. Before, village officials could only collect a maximum daily fine of $250 for those violations.
"Now, we have teeth in the law," Old Westbury Mayor Fred Carillo said.
In East Hills, where the number of building permits rose to 417 last year from 222 in 2012, officials said homeowners and contractors have been penalized for flouting local codes.
Contractors were fined for failing to install fencing around demolition sites, Mayor Michael Koblenz said. Last year the village collected about $2,000 in "no safety fence" fines, records show. Other violations include people who bought houses, but did not maintain the property, causing property maintenance issues, Koblenz said.
Prosecutors in village court have begun targeting contractors "with an intensity that's never been there before," said Bill Burton, the East Hills village attorney.
"You had folks coming into the neighborhood that didn't check as to permits, what's necessary," Koblenz said. "They came from outside the neighborhood, they were lax in other areas, they had to be reined in, to follow the rules."
The village collected $8,300 for one code violation category -- emergency exits blocked -- in 2013, up from nothing in that category the year before, records show. A backlog of cases forced the village to add more court dates, Koblenz said.
East Hills last month passed new requirements for electrical inspectors, even requiring licensees to "possess the following qualities: integrity, competence and honesty," according to the law. If village officials suspect malfeasance they can issue a stop work order and hold hearings.
"Most families build a house once in a lifetime, they're not aware of all the nuances, " said David Tanner, Mayor of East Williston and president of the Nassau County Village Officials Association.