Brookhaven Town officials say a court decision handed down last week has bolstered their efforts to crack down on illegal apartments that have vexed residents who live near Stony Brook University.
The verdict, announced Thursday in a packed Patchogue courtroom, found North Shore Design Inc. of Mount Sinai guilty on 15 of 44 counts of violating town codes at a house it owns at 150 Christian Ave. The company faces up to $51,000 in fines at a sentencing scheduled for Thursday.
Brookhaven officials said the verdict vindicated town laws designed to deter landlords from crowding college students into illegal rooming houses.
"[The decision was] a real positive for the town, because it continues to send a message to the landlords that haven't gotten it that we are serious about cracking down," Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said.
Besides the Christian Avenue house, other suspected rooming houses in Stony Brook and Setauket have drawn the attention of authorities.
Earlier this month, Suffolk County and Stony Brook University police dispersed hundreds of people attending a party at 1337 Stony Brook Rd., police and Brookhaven officials said. Three men were charged with disorderly conduct.
Stony Brook University suspended eight student organizations pending an investigation into what roles they may have played in the party; one group was reinstated last week, while the others remained temporarily suspended, university spokeswoman Lauren Sheprow said.
The two-story Christian Avenue house had been the focus of complaints by neighbors who said too many people appeared to be living there. Deputy town attorney David Moran said the house was allowed to have as many as six tenants, but had more than a dozen when it was inspected by town officials.
The company's owner, Steven Graziano, declined to comment. His attorney, Raymond Negron of Miller Place, said he planned to appeal. He questioned town laws, saying he believed some were invalid under state law because they regulate the number of unrelated people living together.
North Shore Design was convicted of eight counts of creating illegal apartments, four counts of making building alterations without a permit, two counts of creating unsafe conditions by installing illegal locks inside the house, and one count of violating the sanitary code.
The firm was acquitted on 29 other counts, including 24 counts of creating unsafe conditions.
"Plain and simple, my client provided tenants with a legal home and they broke several laws while occupying it," Negron said in an email. "The town offered no evidence that the defendant committed any of the violations. . . . The convictions have no chance of surviving the appeal."
Homeowners said they hoped the verdict would convince landlords to comply with town laws.
"I think it's a good verdict," said Bruce Sander, who co-founded Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners last year in response to rooming houses in the hamlet. "Anything to wake landlords up is a good thing."
Illegal rental issue
Brookhaven Town officials are investigating 120 suspected illegal rooming houses.
The town launched a crackdown on illegal rooming houses last year, many near the Stony Brook University campus. Officials increased fines for violations of town codes pertaining to illegal rental apartments:
$5,000 per first offense (up from $2,000)
$10,000 per second offense (up from $3,000)
Source: Brookhaven Town