Brookhaven Town has adopted new procedures for razing blighted houses, as part of the town's efforts to crack down on unsafe homes.
Town building officials, who previously had sought the permission of State Supreme Court judges to tear down buildings, now will seek that authorization from the town board.
The town board unanimously approved the change in the town code last week. It also adopted new town code language that echoes state statutes defining buildings that are structurally deficient or uninhabitable.
"The old code was very antiquated," Councilman Dan Panico said. "This is going to streamline the process. We're not going to have the arduous process of going to State Supreme Court."
Councilwoman Jane Bonner expressed hope that the changes would enable the town to move swiftly against abandoned homes.
"A lot of these properties have languished not for months, but years," she said.
Brookhaven has boarded up hundreds of unsafe houses in the past two years. Officials say many of the homes are owned by banks as the result of foreclosures.
Owners of vacant homes are currently required to register with the town and must maintain the properties. Property owners who fail to comply face fines of $1,000 to $15,000; in addition, the town may place liens on the homes to pay for maintenance work such as cutting grass and trimming trees.
Under the new law, property owners will be given 30 days notice before a house is demolished.
Community activist MaryAnn Johnston said she supported the law's goals, but questioned whether it may inadvertently cause the town to tear down empty houses whose owners are away on vacation or residing in extended-care facilities.
"How do we determine what vacant buildings are unoccupied and unsafe?" Johnston said to the board before the vote. "We need to be very, very clear about what 'vacant' means and how it's going to be applied."
Town board members said provisions of the law would ensure only unsafe homes are demolished, and town inspectors would be trained to recognize homes whose owners plan to return.
" 'Vacant' is when a house has no power," Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said.
Panico added: "We are not taking down the houses of any snowbirds."