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Letter riles Mastic Beach homeowners

Town Hall in the Village of Mastic Beach

Town Hall in the Village of Mastic Beach is at 427 Neighborhood Rd. The village was incorporated in 2010 and includes several historic sites. (July 8, 2011) Credit: Carl Corry

Some Mastic Beach homeowners are outraged about a letter from village officials threatening to block home sales if they do not allow inspectors in to examine the structure for damage from superstorm Sandy.

The letter sent to about 700 homeowners in flood zones on Feb. 25 also threatens to "hold up" title searches, certificates of occupancy and mortgages if residents do not comply by March 31.

Village Mayor Bill Biondi said he would extend the deadline for about six months, but he says the letter's message is legal.

Village board attorney Brian Egan acknowledged the letter was unclear, but he suggested that homeowners overreacted.

After Sandy hit Oct. 29, New York State, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and village inspectors conducted a "rapid assessment" of homes in flood areas, to determine their relative safety, but it was not considered a thorough analysis of damage, village officials said.

Because inspectors examined only building exteriors, homeowners were advised in writing to contact the village to determine whether $50 building permits would be needed for insulation and Sheetrock repair.

Residents were given until the end of the month to comply or face obstacles with title searches, certificates of occupancy or selling their homes.

At the village board meeting last week, homeowners -- some of whom claimed no flood damage -- said the village was violating their privacy rights by demanding entrance into homes.

Biondi later acknowledged that a "strong letter was sent out. Did we offend some people's rights? I don't think it's against anyone's rights. I'm trying to do the right thing."

He said village officials seek to prevent someone from fraudulently selling a damaged home.

Robin Charlow, constitutional and criminal law professor at Hofstra University, said the letter may have overstepped legal bounds. It also coerces residents to voluntarily give up their right against search without a warrant, she said. "The letter is bad political and social policy, and it could have been done in a much more reasonably and neighborly way," Charlow said.

Egan, the village board attorney, said the letter should have noted, for example, that homeowners can have a professional engineer or electrician certify the home as safe.

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