As finance director for a nonprofit that manages 45 properties, Velene Gallagher says her job has included renewing rental permits and arranging inspections by the Town of Islip.
But Gallagher, who works for the Central Islip Civic Council, a community advocacy group, said when she called the town a month ago, an employee told her the inspections had been discontinued.
Town officials said the policy was changed to comply with case law, but Gallagher and others are concerned the shift could lead to unsafe conditions for tenants, especially in a town where illegal and unsafe housing has been an issue. "I don't think it's a good idea or a smart idea," she said.
Islip Town officials said Thursday they stopped requiring an interior inspection before a rental permit is issued last year, after Supervisor Tom Croci took office and town attorney Robert Cicale was appointed.
Cicale said the change is based on a New York Court of Appeals ruling from 1981. In Sokolov v. Village of Freeport, the court deemed it unconstitutional -- a violation of Fourth Amendment rights -- for a municipality to mandate a physical inspection of a home before issuing or reissuing a rental permit.
Cicale said the case has been repeatedly reaffirmed, most recently when the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court declared Hempstead Village's rental inspection law unconstitutional in January 2012.
"A plaintiff could bring an action to the Supreme Court that a township's policy of requiring an inspection for a rental apartment is unconstitutional," Cicale said. "We are constrained to following the law, and the law is very clear."
Cicale said instead of facing potential lawsuits or declaratory judgments, the town drafted a strict affidavit to be signed and notarized by anyone seeking a rental permit, "which has them swear under penalties of perjury that they have proper fire equipment, and [the property] doesn't have any deficiencies that would affect the safety of a prospective tenant," he said.
But Nancy Manfredonia, executive director of the Civic Council, said she wishes there were a way around the law, which she said threatens residents' safety.
"There are so many situations that are dangerous where homes are overcrowded, and they could present safety hazards to families and children," Manfredonia said. "It just makes me terribly uncomfortable to think there are properties out there without carbon monoxide detectors, smoke detectors, people in basements without proper egress."