Thursday, May 31, 2007

Realtors Now Liable For Illegal Rentals In Islip Town

Local Law Holds Realtors Accountable For Illegal Apartments

We all know the routine. Homeowner, with illegal basement apartment, retains Realtor to sell house. Realtor turns blind eye to kitchen, bath and living accomodations in the cellar, and, with a wink and a nod, moves the sale forward.

The same goes for so-called mother/daughter homes where the "daughter" unit is, without permit, utilized and leased, with the Realtor's tacit consent, as a rental unit to a non-family member.

Even the outright rental of basement apartments by Realtors -- as well as other areas of houses whose Certificates of Occupancy clearly state "one-family" -- without permit, in clear violation of local building codes, is the practice, not the breach.

Now, at least in Islip Town, Realtors will no longer be able to turn the other cheek, in essence, reaping a handsome commission from the sale and/or lease of an illegal accessory apartment. The Islip Town Board has enacted code provisions that hold the Realtor liable -- by means of the imposition of fines and jail time -- for offering for sale or lease premises that are openly and notoriously used as multi-unit dwellings in contravention of the law.

In short, instead of the oft unspoken, "we both know that cellar apartment is illegal -- wink, wink -- but you can up the asking price, make the house more desirable by providing an income-producing accessory apartment, and no one will be the wiser," if Realtors see something (and we all know an illegal apartment when we see one), they will have to say something -- or face possible monetary and penal sanctions.

Sure, Realtors don't like the new law. After all, it could cut into their commissions. Still, requiring Realtors to check for permits and C of O's, and to open their heretofore blind eyes to the obviously unlawful, is not so onerous a burden that Realtors will be running away from the sale.

At the very least, the law will keep most Realtors on the up and up, no longer willing accomplices in the proliferation of illegal accessory apartments.

A few years ago, when The Community Alliance was still the Tri-Community Alliance (Elmont, Franklin Square and West Hempstead), the push, along the same lines of the Islip Town Ordinance, was to have the New York Secretary of State -- responsible for the regulation and licensing of real estate brokers and agents -- hold Realtors responsible for the sale/lease of a premises that harbored an illegal accessory apartment; fines to be imposed for offenders, and tickets pulled for the most egregious abuses.

Not much happened up in Albany other than the typical banter from the usual suspects. Perhaps its time for the Secretary of State to take another, more serious look at this issue -- one that truly imperils suburbia as we know it -- and to take strong, remedial action (the objections of the Realtors' lobby notwithstanding).

In the meantime, Islip Town's more stringent Ordinance, following that of the Town of Riverhead, and similar statutes enacted in villages from Malverne to Farmingdale to Patchogue, is a good start -- at least on paper, with the prospect of observance by local Realtors and appropriate enforcement by the Town.

Hitting them where it hurts -- the "them" being both the homeowner who rents unlawfully and the Realtor who knowingly joins the homeowner, profiting from the ill-begotten gains -- coupled with strict and unrelenting enforcement, is one of the most effective ways to eradicate the scourge of illegal accessory apartments.

Other townships, including Hempstead Town, with the largest base of illegal accessory apartments on Long Island, should follow suit, doing everything possible [clearly, what has been done -- again, mainly on paper, actual enforcement being vitually nil -- not yielding much in the way of beneficial results] to stem the tide of illegal rentals, this while there remains something of suburbia to salvage.
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Law holds Realtors responsible for illegal rentals
By Denise Bonilla

Real estate agents are up in arms over a change to the Islip town zoning law that, they say, holds them liable for code violations in properties they list, lease, rent or sell and threatens stiff fines and potential imprisonment.

A first offense can cost up to $2,000 and 15 days in jail according to the code, approved by the town board 5-0 on May 22. Three or more offenses in five years means up to a $5,000 fine.

Councilman Steven Flotteron, who says the change merely holds them responsible for illegal rentals, said it's an attempt to get a hold of a growing illegal housing market.

All town rentals are required to have an occupancy permit, which is good for two years and certifies the apartment is up to code. Under the changes, anyone who acts as an agent, broker or even posts fliers in supermarkets advertising a rental must make sure the property owner has a rental permit."All we're asking Realtors, if they're going to be listing, is to make a simple phone call [to the town] to make sure [property owners] have a rental permit," Flotteron said.

But agents said it's not that simple and plan to hold a protest Thursday at Islip Town Hall.

Long Island Board of Realtors president Linda Bonarelli said the language of the revised law requires them to act as building inspectors and enforce town code, which they are not trained to do, on both rental and sale properties.

"It places an unfair burden on Realtors," she said. "It's making us the code police."

Bonarelli said agents would have to ensure all listings are up to code.Flotteron disagreed, saying since the town rental statute was changed, the new law requires agents to only confirm owners have a rental permit."They're not expected to look at the electrical panel and these other things," Flotteron said. "We're just saying see if there's a permit. If they don't, then they're part of the problem."At issue is language in the ordinance that says agents who sell any "dwelling unit" must make sure it is in "full compliance with the Code of the Town of Islip."

Flotteron said the ordinance was modeled after Riverhead's town code, revised in January 2006. Riverhead Supervisor Phil Cardinale said there were no objections by agents there, and no agent convictions for listing illegal housing.

Carlos Arvelo, a Brentwood real estate agent, said the revised code will only hurt a struggling housing market and make owners hesitant to approach agents.

"If I lease a home today and there are no apartments in it but then they build one, why should I be liable for something I had nothing to do with?" he said.

Brentwood Fire Department Chief John Carney praised the new law. "I've had calls at houses, we brought the town in, they were issued summonses and then six months later the house is sold and they still have illegal occupancy," he said.

Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.

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