Building Codes Scrutinized After Fire

Apr 5, 2012

NEW PALTZ, NY (WAMC) - This is the time of year when many people are shopping around for a new apartment or home to rent. Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Dave Lucas reports a housefire in Rockland County has authorities scrambling to enforce existing laws that have been ignored...

Early this week, about 20 tenants living in a two-family house in Valley Cottage, New York found themselves temporarily homeless after fire tore through the building, which, it turns out, had seen some illegal alterations.

In many municipalities, creating an additional housing unit in an existing building without first obtaining the approval of the local Department of Buildings is against the law. Owners could face civil and criminal penalties. Rockland County Fire Co-ordinator Gordron Wren, Junior is heading up a task force charged with identifying and eliminating illegal housing.

Wren concedes illegal apartments have sprung up everywhere, and tenants may not even know until it's too late. He was a bit surprised about the Valley Cottage case.

Some cities offer community based nonprofit organization that works to improve housing conditions, both in terms of physical conditions and in terms of tenants' rights for security and equity. Valerie Neilsen is a case manager and counselor at United Tenants of Albany - she suggests potential tenants do their homework before making a move to a building that may be in violation of code.

Clarkstown Building Inspector Peter Beary says although buildings are inspected annually, investigators can't always easily determine whether illegal modifications have been made. The house that burned down had passed previous inpsections.

The Red Cross helped the mostly immigrant families find new homes. The house on Lake Road suffered extensive damage. No word as to whetehr it will be repaired.