A Suffolk County District Court judge has ordered an absentee landlord to restore an illegal multi-family apartment in East Northport back to a single-family state.
Acting on a case brought by the Town of Huntington, Judge C. Stephen Hackeling ordered landlord Vincent Piemonte of Northport to convert an illegal three-apartment building back into its legal single family occupancy after a two day trial in mid-June. The illegal apartment, located at 172 Vernon Valley Road, was reported to authorities by a neighbor in April 2011.
The judge ordered the conversion back to a single family home despite the house currently being listed as a two-family duplex on the town property information website. As Town Spokesman AJ Carter explains, the owner got permission from the Zoning Board of Appeals to convert the house into a legal two-family years ago, but was required to complete certain steps by a deadline. The assessor’s record was adjusted to reflect the ZBA action, however, the owner did not complete those necessary steps within the deadline, so the permission expired.
Technically, the house was never officially converted to a legal two, which is why the judge ordered it returned to a single-family state.
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Judge Hackeling appointed Randy J. Schaefer, an attorney with the law firm Silverman & Associates in Jericho, as receiver. Schaefer will have the authority to collect and hold the rents from the tenants in the hopes that Piemonte will have less incentive to delay the conversion. Schaefer is also charged with ensuring that the house is brought into compliance with Town codes and that the tenants leave--either willfully or through eviction.
One tenant Patch spoke with on Friday held out eleven letters addressed to "Occupant #6" sent from the law firm Silverman Acampora LLP and said she pays $1,600 a month in rent to Piemonte. According to the town, what happens to the rent money is up to the judge.
If Piemonte does not restore the house on his own, Schaeffer can ask the Town to advance the funding for the restoration, with the cost tacked on the property tax bill.
The Town did not say how many illegal apartments are estimated to exist in the Town of Huntington. However, Town Spokesperson AJ Carter said the town addresses alleged illegal apartments through its Public Safety Department code enforcement division, receives complaints about illegal apartments, and investigates and works with property owners to bring the houses into compliance.
In the cases of property owners who do not cooperate, the code enforcement division refers matters to the Town Attorney’s office for prosecution. Occasionally, the town has to obtain search warrants to enter properties and confirm illegal apartments, in other cases, owners allow the Town into the premises without warrants.
“This is an important decision that should send a message to all absentee landlords with illegal multi-family rentals that the Town will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law," Town Supervisor Frank P. Petrone said of the Town's victory, "and that the Courts will act aggressively."