Lake Street fire photo of remains

Bringing back inspections to Spring Valley uncertain after code enforcer speaks

“A Rockland legislative committee discussed when New York state might return building inspections and code enforcement to the Ramapo village during a Tuesday update on the county’s progress aimed at ensuring safe and code-compliant buildings.

However, no concrete answers were forthcoming. While the village mayor, Alan Simon, desires to get back into fire and building code enforcement, the director of the county inspection office was non-committal about the county’s plans, saying the state would decide.

Spring Valley: Mayor Alan Simon wants building inspections back, saying county is ineffective

The New York State Department of State seized control of the village’s enforcement in November 2021, deputizing the county government as enforcer of the codes. The state’s decision came after years of pressure regarding the village’s dysfunction and two deaths in an adult home fire that resulted in indictments.

From left, Rockland County Building inspector, Jack Lavalasse, Fire Inspector, Willer Franck and Director of the Office of Buildings and Codes, Ed Markunas inspect a house next to a two-family house where there was a fatal fire on Lake Street in Spring Valley March 6, 2023. The Journal News

Ed Markunas, director of the Rockland Buildings and Codes Office, told legislators on Tuesday that the state has not set a timetable for returning code enforcement to the village. He said discussions have taken place.

And while the county has a two-year commitment until early 2024, Markunas said, no decisions have been made on the county giving up enforcement until the state weighs in. He said the state is happy with the county’s efforts to create a building inspection program.

The office can only inspect in Spring Valley and can only inspect multiple-family homes, apartment complexes, schools, and businesses. Single and two-family homes − the site of a fatal fire − can only be inspected with permission from the landlord or the tenants.

“I think that’s a decision to be made by the County Executive’s Office and the Department of State,” Markunas said, declining to give his opinion on returning the responsibilities to Spring Valley.

Markunas’s answers didn’t go over well with some legislators

“I feel very much unsatisfied,” Legislator James Foley, R-South Nyack, said after Markunas answered.

Spring Valley officials must show they can properly handle enforcement of state codes, Department of State Communications Director Michelle Rosales said. She said Secretary Robert Rodriguez will make the decision.

“The secretary will designate the village to resume administration and enforcement of the Uniform Code and Energy Code when the village establishes to the satisfaction of the secretary that the village is ready, willing, and able to provide such administration and enforcement in a due and proper manner and in compliance with the minimum standards,” Rosales said.

She said that “while there is no set timetable, the department continues to have discussions with both the village and the county regarding code enforcement within the village.”

The Spring Valley Mayor’s Office referred questions to the village consultant Adam McCarey, who responded he first must talk with the mayor.

Simon has argued the village can better protect residents than the county government. He claims the county government program was deficient, illegal, and fails to adequately protect residents and get building problems corrected.

Markunas gives overview of inspections

Markunas provided an overview of what the county has accomplished during 18 months of enforcement.

He appeared before the Legislature Public Safety Committee at the behest of Legislator Laurie Santulli of Clarkstown. She’s an East Ramapo School District teacher and a volunteer firefighter who left the Republican Party to become an independent. She’s not seeking re-election in November.

During the past 18 months, Markunas said:

  • 1,963 properties have been inspected;
  • 10,600 violations issued;
  • 815 certifications of compliance with no violations;
  • 192 prosecutions with 68 consent orders with a time frame to make repairs;
  • $613,000 in penalties and $333,000 in collected fines; and
  • the office generated $2 million with expenses of $1.3 million.

Santulli focused some questions on the county’s need for more inspectors and the deaths of seven people in fires, as well as dangers to first responders and residents. Two people, including Spring Valley Firefighter Second Lt. Jared Lloyd, died in the March 2021 inferno at the Evergreen Court Home for Adults in Spring Valley. Five other people died, including two children, in the March fire to the two-family house on Lake Street.

Markunas and County Attorney Thomas Humbach told the committee that contracting with part-time inspectors is difficult. The low pay and lack of benefits as well as not enough certified inspectors are obstacles. They said a program to train inspectors who have other jobs now requires them to take classes for a month straight raises problems.

Markunas said the county contracts with five inspectors and could likely use five more. But he said more inspectors means more violations and more staff to hold hearing administrative hearings.

He said the office has met the state’s initial goals, including establishing a code enforcement program, issuing building permits, and maintaining a records system for follow-up inspections. He said Spring Valley’s record-keeping was abysmal, hundreds of properties went years without being inspected, though regulations required inspections yearly or every three years. “Enforcement was virtually non-existent,” Markunas told the legislators. He said the office needed up to three months to build a master list of 1,255 village properties that need to be inspected.”

Read the complete Journal News coverage here.