Illegal housing on Valley Stream's radar
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“You can sleep in a basement in the state of New York. You cannot sleep in a basement in the village of Valley Stream,” said Sal Costanzo, the director of Code Enforcement.
The village’s restrictions go above and beyond New York state law. Even a regular single-family home in Valley Stream is not supposed to have a bedroom in the basement. Based on that restriction alone, it isn’t possible to have a legal cellar dwelling, explained Village Justice Robert Bogle. “Cellar units are easily the most dangerous,” he said, noting that most have small windows and only one way in or out.
Basement apartments also pose a danger to firefighters if there is a fire call, Roca said. The units are often divided into small rooms, in which, when filled with smoke, firefighters can easily get disoriented.
Property owners who are hit with summonses for illegal apartments find their way to the village court for Wednesday-night meetings with Bogle. He said he gives little leeway to landlords who rent out illegal apartments, and isn’t afraid to come down hard on them.
The fine for an illegal apartment is $2,000 for a first offense and $3,000 for each subsequent offense. Bogle likes to impose a conditional discharge, in which, after a case is settled, Code Enforcement has the power to inspect the premises at any time over the next two years. If Bogle learns that the landlord hasn’t removed the apartment or has started renting it again, he or she will be subject to even larger penalties.
The justice has another tool to use as well. “This year, we’ve put two people in jail,” he said. “I don’t like to do it often, but it is something in the arsenal of deterrents.”
Bogle explained that he put one property owner in jail for 15 days this year — and ordered a $48,000 lien against the home — and another got locked up for nine days. He said that he only does this in the most extreme cases — for a repeat offender, an uncooperative landlord or someone who creates living conditions that “shock the conscience.”