Landlord’s lawsuit seeks to block Rockland from enforcing Spring Valley building codes

Firefighters work on an apartment building fire on Kennedy Drive in Spring Valley March 9 2022. People were rescued from the fire on the top floor of the building. Photo/ Peter Carr The Journal News

“A property owner facing dozens of fire and building code violations has demanded a state court prevent the Rockland Office of Building and Codes from prosecuting to force compliance.

The legal action claims the county office is not empowered by the state order covering Spring Valley to prosecute and fine landlords, arguing that’s the domain of the Spring Valley Justice Court and the county cannot legally usurp the village’s jurisdiction.

The legal action, if successful, would dismantle the county’s administrative hearing process to issue fines and force compliance with the codes. The county recently issued its first fine against a landlord for nearly $40,000 since taking over inspections in February.

The county countered administrative tribunals are utilized statewide, including in the Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of Environmental Conservation, and many other state agencies. The Rockland Board of Health has long used an administrative hearing process to settle violations, including issuing fines.

Legal action: Kennedy Drive landlord asks a state judge to block county hearings on violations

Kennedy Drive: Rockland turns up 100-plus violations after Spring Valley apartment fire

Violations: Rockland outlines violations at 101 Kennedy Drive in Spring Valley

“This is a prime example of an irresponsible landlord trying to scapegoat the law,” Rockland County Executive Ed Day said. “Our administrative court is a legal, well-established process and I pledge to fight this ridiculous lawsuit.”

The county government in February created the Office of Building and Codes to enforce state fire and safety codes in the village. The New York State Department of State deputized the county in November after years of criticism about the dysfunctional Building Department and oversight by the village government.

What’s in the suit

The 40-page Article 78 was filed by the owners of the Country Village Towers at 101 Kennedy Drive. The principles include Jacob Weinreb, who also faces multiple housing code violations from New York City on properties he owns, according to the county and news reports.

Violations were issued following a March 9 fire during which some residents were trapped on the top floor. Police and firefighters evacuated dozens of people from the building. Four people were taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation.  

Inspectors later found what the county said was more than 100 hazardous conditions. They said they found apartments with living rooms and dining rooms converted into bedrooms, and exposed wires and faulty smoke alarms.

The violations at Country Village Towers included:

  • No fire extinguishers in hallways (one is required every 75 feet)
  • Combustible materials in hallways
  • Flammable caulking
  • Corroded fire pump
  • Exposed wires throughout the building
  • Faulty smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Systematic failure of the fire alarm system
  • Fire doors not closing properly
  • No elevator certificate of inspection
  • Black mold in several apartments
  • Deteriorating stairways and balconies

County records show a 2019 inspection at Country Village Towers by the village yielded 11 violations. There are no records showing a follow-up inspection or documentation that any corrective actions were taken, the county said.”

Read the complete Journal News coverage here.