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Hempstead Village proposes illegal-rental crackdown

In a bid to weed out landlords who rent illegal apartments, Hempstead Village is looking to require permits for rental housing and to slap violators with thousands of dollars in fines.

Such a law could have a big impact in the village, as 55.4 percent of its housing units are renter-occupied, compared with 17.2 percent countywide, according to census figures.

Under the proposed ordinance, property owners would pay a minimum $150 fee to apply for a two-year rental registration permit. They would also be required to submit detailed information about the premises and the number of residents expected to live there.

The law would exclude co-ops and dwellings operated by the public housing authority, as well as low- and moderate-income housing for senior citizens owned by nonprofit corporations. It would apply to tenants who sublet apartments.

Some critics say the move would push poor and transient tenants into the street.

At a public hearing last night, some residents pushed for passage of the proposal, citing overcrowded homes in their neighborhoods that had cut into the quality of life with nuisances like excess garbage and cars.

Reginald Lucas, president of the Duncan Estates Civic Association, said he left public housing in East New York more than 30 years ago for the lifestyle of a single-family neighborhood: "That's the reason why I moved here. There have been all kinds of situations because of overcrowding that tears at the fiber of the community that I want."

Lance Clarke, a former village justice and a firefighter, said the law is needed to ensure the public's safety. He cited the danger of fires in apartments that have been subdivided.

But he said the proposed fines are too high. The village would be able to fine convicted first-time violators a minimum of $2,500 and up to $5,000 - and jail them for up to 15 days.

Other municipalities with similar laws have a range of fines. Freeport Village sets no minimum, while Babylon Town imposes a minimum of $250 for a first offense. North Hempstead Town fines convicted first-time violators $1,000 to $5,000.

Village attorney Debra DiSalvo said the proposal is intended to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords. If a landlord takes a tenant to court for unpaid rent and is found not to have a rental permit, the tenant would not owe rent, she said.

But Carlos Mackey, president of the Hempstead Village Tenants Council, said in a telephone interview he worried the law could result in fewer housing units for poor and transient residents. "If they put a lot of restrictions on homeowners, they're not going to take people in, and you're going to end up with some people [being] homeless," he said.

The village board is expected to vote on the measure at its meeting on Feb. 17.

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