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Islip strengthens town efforts to clean up blighted homes

Islip Town officials have strengthened the town's efforts to fix blighted homes by creating a vacant home registry and amending local code to be able to prosecute negligent homeowners in district court.

The town board unanimously approved the measures at a board meeting Oct. 14.

"The changes would make it illegal to have blighted conditions," said assistant town attorney Kerry Bassett at the meeting. "It enables the town attorney's office to keep a closer eye on the properties."

Under the change, the town code now defines prohibited property conditions as those with excessive litter and debris, broken or unsecured windows and doors, overgrown grass or vegetation of at least 10 inches in length, and the presence of graffiti. Penalties for a first offense start at a $250 fine and/or imprisonment for no more than five days to a maximum $5,000 fine or up to a year in jail.

The vacant home registry is meant to both protect homeowners such as snowbirds who may be traveling for long periods, Bassett said, as well as provide the town with information about areas of the town with the potential for blight. For security reasons, the registry would not be available to the public, he said.

Town Supervisor Tom Croci said the new measures could identify blighted homes faster and help in "hopefully getting those homes back on the market and back to families."

Some opponents of the new measures said they feared the law would rely on subjective standards and not give struggling homeowners a chance to fix their properties.

"If it's a broken window are we just going to throw the book at the poor guy?" asked Bay Shore resident Theodore Lincoln Tiller Jr. at the meeting.

Irma Solis, of the advocacy group, Make the Road New York, asked the board to table the proposal until further review, citing her group's desire to have a "thorough legal analysis" of the bill.

Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood) also criticized the proposals. "There is no definition of what blight is. I don't trust it in the hands of anyone with bad judgment," he told the board, and called for more public input.

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