By PHIL NOBILE
Described as applicable legislation by the Board of Trustees, the Village of Mamaroneck recently adopted the New York State Multiple Dwelling Law to strengthen protections for the village’s lower-income tenants and enforce violations on building landlords.
Instead of an internal rewrite, the village decided to scrap its own outdated building code in favor of adopting a uniform state code in early 2014, which allows for a more streamlined updating process.
The state building code doesn’t speak to the issue of multiple dwellings, though, so the need for the village to also adopt a policy on multiple dwellings became apparent. That need led to the additional adoption of a state multiple dwellings law, which the Board of Trustees approved by a 4-to-1 vote.
Trustee Andres Bermudez Hallstrom, a Democrat, was in favor of adopting the multiple dwellings law, describing it as beneficial to tenants who need more protections from “unscrupulous landlords” as well as to building owners, who can abide by a uniformed code.
“The old village code had a very barebones law and conflicted with other standards,” Bermudez Hallstrom said. “Adoption of the multiple dwelling law was the most efficient way of assuring that residents of multiple dwellings in the Village of Mamaroneck live in safe, healthy and secure housing and that landlords can be held to account for providing inhabitable housing to those most vulnerable residents.”
According to Bermudez Hallstrom, the law was the only remedy for residents living in unsafe or undesirable housing conditions, with the alternative course of action being to take landlords to court over potential problems.
If the state applies any changes to the law, they are automatically applied to the village because of the uniformed nature of the law–a huge benefit in comparison to the many outdated portions of the village’s code, according to Bermudez Hallstrom.
Specifically, the village adopted sections 1 through 5 and 8 through 11 of the New York State law. The detailed legislation has multiple aspects that fall under the requirement of a multiple dwelling, which is defined by the state as a building that is rented or leased to three or more families living independently of one another.
The law lists specific requirements that landlords must adhere to when it comes to multiple dwellings, such as peepholes, proper mailboxes, fire codes and even punishments if housing is used for prostitution rings. According to Bermudez Hallstrom, the village code was missing some of these particulars.
The original village code regarding multiple dwellings needed replacement after the village repealed and rebuilt their building code to align with the state’s uniformed code. Originally known under village code section 226 as “Housing Standards,” Bermudez Hallstrom said the village’s version of a multiple dwelling law was a “very barebones law,” and conflicted with other standards the state multiple dwelling law set forth.
Not all trustees were convinced adopting the state law was a good idea.
Trustee Leon Potok, a Democrat, voted against adopting the law. He said he felt uncomfortable approving it because of a lack of explanation about the old code versus the new law.
“I don’t think we should be passing laws that we don’t quite understand what the impact is,” Potok said. “What we had was very straightforward. Why we want to impose convoluted law on our residents who need to understand their rights is beyond me?”
According to Bermudez Hallstrom though, the trustees had ample time to analyze and look over the now adopted state legislation.
“I emailed them to all the board members, so they had time to read them,” he said.
The adoption of the law was also not well-received by some members of the community.
Former Democratic mayoral candidate and longtime village resident Clark Neuringer questioned whether adopting the state’s 170-page law was appropriate for the village.
“There ought to be a sense of scale,” Neuringer said. “I don’t know if it is practical to take an urban law dedicated for 60-unit apartment buildings and highrise buildings and bring it to bear on a village that is predominantly three-or-four-sized family units.”
Bermudez Hallstrom, who described the legislation as a “flexible law,” said the claims it wasn’t proper for the village are “completely not true.”
“It can apply to any village that adopts it,” he said. “The cut-off is three families living independently of one another, and it applies to a lot of homes in the village.”
Village resident Norah Lucas questioned why the board opted out of performing a review for possible environmental effects the new legislation would bring.
According to Village Attorney Charles Goldberger, the state law replaces village law with such minimal change that a SEQR was not required to pass the law.
Bermudez Hallstrom echoed the attorney’s sentiments, and assured there would be no adverse environmental effects.
The law will officially go into effect when it is filed later this month, and will specifically replace section 226 of the village code.