The village of Manorhaven will be more closely investigating illegal occupancies, with a new law that identifies plausible signs of these dwellings and implements firmer penalties for violations.
At a public hearing last month, village officials said that the law intends to make it easier to regulate and deter illegal housing.
“The real challenge when prosecuting illegal occupancies is gathering the proof,” said village attorney Steven Leventhal. “In order to successfully prosecute the owner, we have to have evidence . . . The purpose of this law is to make it easier for the village to bring a charge.”
Signs of multiple families illegally residing in a single-family dwelling could include separate entrances, multiple kitchens, advertisements listing a portion of the home for rent, and numerous doorbells or utility meters, according to the local law.
The village’s building inspector and code enforcement officer have been tasked with documenting violations, though entering a private residence would require the owner’s permission. The law doesn’t specify how often or by what process the village staff will check on potential violations.
Owners of residences would be fined at least $3,500 for a first violation, with the penalty increasing for subsequent violations.
Mayor Jim Avena said that the board had “no way of knowing” approximately how many illegal dwellings the village has, “until we start enforcing the code.”
A 2016 study by Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies estimated that there are about 90,000 to 100,000 illegal apartments on Long Island.
People at the hearing voiced mixed responses to the law, with some alleging that regulations were discriminatory.
Resident Nancy Solomon said that she feared “such stringent” regulations would deny people housing and were the kinds of actions seen in Nazi Germany when people were prevented from living in certain areas.
Susan Gottehrer, the director of the Nassau County chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that the law seemed to both be “targeting low-income people” and forcing the accused to prove their innocence.
“It unjustly identifies perfectly legal behavior such as having two trash cans outside your home as a reason to jump to conclusions that someone is violating an occupancy law,” she added.
Others said that the law aimed to address overcrowding in the village, and was not a form of discrimination.
“It is very crowded, it is unsafe in many areas,” said Barbara Ruemenapp. “What I believe the board is trying to do is not discriminate against anybody but make it safe for the people that live here.”
Many agreed that the root cause of illegal occupancy is overdevelopment in the village, which has a population of about 6,651.
“Our actual issue is overdevelopment. If we solve that, we solve everything else here,” said former Deputy Mayor Lucretia Steele.