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Romaine Pledges More Enforcement Against Illegal Housing

Town-wide push will include efforts in Port Jefferson Station.

Newly elected town supervisor Ed Romaine on Monday said he will devote more town resources to fighting illegal housing, a hot-button topic in Port Jefferson Station.

His pledge, given at the monthly meeting of the Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook on Jan. 7, was met with applause.

"I’m not a fan of illegal housing because it allows some people who don’t want to live by the rules to enrich themselves at their neighbors’ expense," Romaine said. "... We will be starting a far more vigorous enforcement effort. This is something that I don’t think the town has done enough of."

In an interview Monday, Romaine emphasized that those statements apply to all of Brookhaven town, and advised residents of Port Jefferson Station to call their town councilman to report complaints.

"You can't enforce a town policy in one community and not the other," he said. "My statement about illegal housing applies to all over the Town of Brookhaven. ... These cases are popping up on a more frequent basis."

In 2010, the town condemned a Port Jefferson Station home that had been illegally subdivided, in which people were living without hot water or electric, and busted a landlord later that year for separating a single-family home into four apartments. In May of 2012, the town found that a home in which 11 people got carbon monoxide poisoning had been illegally subdivided.

Romaine added: "I'm going to work very closely with the council people. I think this is a priority. It affects the quality of life and the value of the home next door."

He said not only will the effort improve quality-of-life for residents, but it will also bring in revenue from fines to the cash-strapped town. He said the town's new chief-of-staff, Garrett Swensen, will be tasked with finding ways to handle more resident complaints by either using overtime or part-time help on the evenings and weekends.

"We want to make sure that there is a response," Romaine said.

According to David J. Moran, deputy town attorney, in 2008 the town took in about $328,000 in fines related to housing code violations. He said that number grew to $800,000 in 2010 and surpassed $1,100,000 in 2012.

"If you blow up their business model, the business model has to change," Moran told the Civics crowd, referring to some landlords' illegal practices. "Every time we find something new, we seek a code amendment … to change our weapons."

One such code amendment, Moran said, was a measure introduced in 2012 by Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld that altered the town's formal definition of 'family' in the town housing code and put the burden of proof on the landlord. Fiore-Rosenfeld said cases brought forward under that new law are "percolating through the district court right now."

However, when asked if the process of enforcement could be made more transparent by putting more information online, Moran said it would likely not be possible.

"It’s tough putting this kind of thing on the Internet," he said. "One thing we never want to do is tip our cards."

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