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Long IslandSuffolk

Rooming house shut, finger-pointing begins

A Bellport rooming house was infested with bedbugs, lacked smoke alarms and had illegal living areas, according to Brookhaven Town inspectors who condemned the property Thursday, forcing the house's tenants to seek new shelter.

On Friday, two stained mattresses sat outside the white single-family house at 4 Sunburst Lane, where town Councilwoman Connie Kepert held a news conference to blast landlord Joseph Udaze and Suffolk County. The county's Department of Social Services pays for the room and board for the residents, who are recipients of housing assistance.

The town issued six violation tickets for bedbugs, flammables stored in the boiler room, lack of smoke alarms and illegal living areas, including the garage. While the number of occupants changed frequently, one resident said seven men lived there.

"The county should be providing safe, clean conditions for people," Kepert said. "They have to ensure the housing they provide is safe. This landlord and others are examples of predatory practices. They're not doing it to help people."

Reached by phone, Udaze said living conditions are the responsibility of the subcontractor who manages the rooming house. "I don't know who they put in there," he said.

He said he didn't know the house was condemned. Udaze has had previous violations on the house and was last in court July 19, according to the town.

The subcontractor is John Magloire of Long Island Haven of Care, according to Udaze and the town.

Reached by phone, Magloire rejected the blame. "The property belongs to Joe [Udaze]," he said. "The responsibility belongs to him." He then hung up the phone.

DSS Commissioner Gregory Blass said the county has no authority to regulate rooming houses. "It's the product of a very basic principle in law of the separation of powers," he said. "The department who pays the funds to the landlord does not have the power to shut the landlord down."

In fact, he said, Brookhaven has regulatory power to shut down rooming houses that violate town codes.

"They have the zoning code enforcement on health and safety issues," Blass said. "The town is complaining about something that we cannot do."

In response, Kepert said the DSS has an obligation to ensure safe conditions in housing it pays for.

"They really should be following up on this. They are the Department of Social Services," she said. "Their job is not just to pass someone through their bureaucracies."

The rooming house's closing was celebrated by some neighbors. "It's good news for the neighborhood," said Rudfil Paul, who lives across the street.

But Hal, a resident of the rooming house who declined to give his last name, said he was at a loss. "I got nowhere to go," he said. "The town says 'leave,' but DSS has nowhere to put us. I'm going to be on the street."

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