Tags Posts tagged with "Off-Campus Housing"

Off-Campus Housing

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine will seek re-election in November. File photo by Alex Petroski

Off-campus housing riddled with town code violations and unsafe conditions for Stony Brook University students has plagued Three Village residents for years. In 2013, the situation inspired community residents Bruce Sander and Anthony DeRosa to start the nonprofit organization Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners.

Coordinated with the start of a new school year, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) delivered a clear message to landlords who rent to university students within his jurisdiction during a press conference Sept. 8: follow town building and fire safety codes or face consequences. The town and university presented a united front from Stony Brook Fire Department Sub Station 2 and stated their intentions to ensure students who reside in off-campus housing are safe in homes that meet town and state codes.

“We have codes for a reason — to protect health and safety,” Romaine said. “We are going to protect the health and safety of the students.”

The supervisor said many of the illegal rooming houses where students live have been subdivided into as many as 10 bedrooms, and a home on Christian Avenue, which he called the “showpiece” of illegal homes, had at least 16 occupants. Romaine said the house is now in foreclosure.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said it is important that renters in the town know their rights when dealing with landlords, and she said town officials are available to assist renters who feel they are in an unsafe situation.

“The supervisor and I cosponsored a number of resolutions over the years to improve the quality of life of residents and to improve the safety of the residents renting here in the Town of Brookhaven,” she said. “Over the past two years or so we have a had a number of roundtable discussions with Stony Brook University, the supervisor’s office, Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners, and of course, our law department and planning department, to make sure we are addressing this issue, as it is a very important issue in our community.”

Bruce Sander of Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners thanked Brookhaven Town and SBU for their efforts in curbing illegal rentals. Photo by Alex Petroski

Deputy Town Attorney Dave Moran said there has been an increase in foreclosures in the community not due to financial reasons but due to the enforcement of building codes.

“We have broken [landlords’] business models in some circumstances, where it is no longer profitable for them to own their second and third house and collect those thousands in rents, by enforcing the statutes that we’ve put in place, by monitoring the rental permits and complaints that come in,” Moran said.

Moran said the town has collected $211,000 in fines over the last month for building violations, compared to only $300,000 collected for the entire year in 2008.

He said partnering with the university, which has educated students on their rights, has helped in uncovering issues as more students are contacting the town to report violations by their landlords.

Judith Greiman, chief deputy to the president of Stony Brook University and senior vice president for government and community relations, said the university has the most beds of any SUNY campus and are second among all universities in the state. The university added 759 new beds this past year with the opening of Chavez and Tubman residence halls and an additional 173 new beds will be available in the fall of 2018.

The chief deputy said the university has taken great steps to ensure students’ safety thanks to the input received from the community and support Romaine, Cartright, Brookhaven Town code inspectors and others have provided.

Among measures the university has undertaken since March 2013 are prohibiting advertisements of off-campus rentals on SBU’s website, unless the landlord can provide a Brookhaven Town rental permit, and prohibiting posting on campus bulletin boards. The university also holds tenants’ rights workshops to help students understand what to look for when renting.

Sander was on hand for the conference representing the Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners organization, and he commended the town and the university for their efforts.

“Unfortunately there will always be those landlords who still believe in the secret method of evading the laws and endangering the students and their community,” Sander said. “I’d like to send a message to the housing landlords: obey the laws.”

The organization founder said there should be no more than four people in a home. He said landlords can also do their part by maintaining their property, mowing grass weekly and providing garbage cans and enough parking space in driveways for tenants.

When it comes to circumventing the law, Romaine had a warning for landlords.

“Don’t do it, we’re coming for you,” he said.

Additional reporting by Alex Petroski

Supervisor Ed Romaine file photo

A state assemblywoman from Ithaca is pushing to provide state aid to municipalities that host four-year, residential State University of New York colleges and universities, and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) is signing onto the cause because of the potential financial relief it could bring to Long Island.

The legislation, introduced by Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) on March 24, seeks to offset the cost of providing public safety services to state schools, which are currently tax-exempt. The move came shortly after Romaine vowed to work with the New York State Board of Regents to seek a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, for the Stony Brook and Setauket fire departments, which both serve SUNY Stony Brook University.

Lifton, who represents the cities and towns of Ithaca and Cortland — which host SUNY Cortland and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University — called the lack of aid a big issue for her municipalities.

“There is a deficit there that we need to makeup,” she said, noting that the state’s Aid and Incentives for Municipalities, or AIM funding, has decreased over the years.

The legislation earmarks $12 million in aid for the host municipalities, and establishes a formula to distribute the aid based on the cost of public safety services, how much AIM funding the community already receives and the student population.

Lifton said there are a lot of rental properties in Cortland, so the police and fire departments “provide more than the normal amount of services.” In the City of Cortland, firefighters are paid, but Cortland Town firefighters volunteer their time.

While the legislation currently doesn’t propose aid be rewarded to a fire districts like those in Stony Brook and East Setauket, Romaine still said he was supportive of the idea.

“We think this is a solution,” Romaine said.

Like in Cortland, Brookhaven officials have been dealing with off-campus rental properties, which university students often inhabit. Over the last two years, the town has tried to curtail illegal and overcrowded rentals in the Stony Brook and Setauket area by strengthening its codes, increasing fines and working with the university to educate students about illegal rentals. The town also hired additional investigators to stay on top of the issue.

While Romaine said the legislation would help Brookhaven, he continued to advocate for “some contribution to the fire districts involved so their taxpayers don’t have to bear that burden.”

Romaine also said he hopes Long Island’s state representatives would support the legislation, and that at some point along the line, a PILOT agreement is established.

State Assemblyman Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) did not return requests for comment.

Stony Brook Fire Department Commissioner Paul Degen, who works as a town investigator, said 50 percent of Stony Brook Fire District’s tax base is exempt, which has made things financially difficult at times as the department has spent money retrofitting trucks and adequately training volunteers.

“It is what it is, but it would be nice if 50 percent of our district paid their fair share,” he said.

According to records from Stony Brook University, alarms requiring a fire department unit on the scene have dropped since 2012 when single detector activations, which are investigated by university fire marshals and don’t require fire department presence, were implemented in May 2012.

In 2012, the Stony Brook and/or Setauket departments were on scene for a total of 137 alarms. In 2013, the number drastically dropped to 25.

While there has been progress, Degen said he would like to see more incentives to attract department volunteers, which aren’t easy to come by these days. The department currently has 72 members, and more than half of them are over 50 years old.

One idea, he said, would be to offer some sort of tuition break or benefit to volunteers, which could help attract students to the department.

“All of that needs to be visited,” he said.

Romaine, Lifton and Degen expressed similar sentiments about the universities, saying they play important roles in the host communities, which welcome them, but still shouldn’t burden the taxpayers.

“All I’m asking for is some kind of remuneration,” Romaine said. “The full burden should not fall on the taxpayer. That is just not fair.”

Social

4,810FansLike
5Subscribers+1
992FollowersFollow
19SubscribersSubscribe