With the exception of the individual landlords and tenants involved, it appears we are all of in agreement that we need to stamp out the problem of illegal apartments.
The safety risks are evident, especially following the multiple deaths in the New York area in the last year when fires in illegal apartments trapped tenants who could not escape. It's something that could also happen here locally.
In addition to these risks, illegal apartments exacerbate infrastructure overload; increase numbers in already crowded schools, create parking problems and overburden community services including public transport and sanitation. When service levels erode and there is overcrowding, property values decrease and we all lose.
So the question is, how can these illegal apartments be eliminated?
Like most Westchester communities, Harrison has struggled with this issue for decades. Currently Harrison has only one full-time enforcement officer in the building department to deal with these and all other code complaints.
It is not enough to make a difference.
"Nothing has changed," Harrison’s building inspector Bob FitzSimmons said to Patch in . "We chase after them, we will always chase after them, but there's always going to be a property owner willing to take the risk."
With that in mind, Police Chief Anthony Marraccini has stepped in to add additional manpower to fight the issue.
While the police have always worked hand-in-hand with the building department on code enforcement, Marraccini recently sent his first officer for code enforcement certification training.
“We have been working with the town’s building inspector for a long time and he has been doing a fine job,” Marraccini said. “However, the police are on the streets and on the front line so they see evidence of these illegal apartments first-hand and it makes sense that we could assist further. Whatever we do, it has to be in conjunction with the building inspector—it’s clearly important that we work as a team.”
Marraccini says that this established close working relationship has already shown success.
“Working along with the building department we have achieved compliance in 30 to 40 locations,” Marraccini said. "It is important that this continues and that everything is done as a team.”
To that end, Harrison Police will follow up any complaints made to them, in conjunction with building department personnel.
“We can help by taking the investigations a step further, photographing and monitoring locations to get probable cause where necessary," Marraccini said. "I want everyone to know that no complaint goes unaddressed.”
Community members can play a role in the process by reporting suspected incidences to the police who will keep citizens’ names confidential.
“It is important that the community get the information to us so that we can work with the building department to take action and feed back results,” Marraccini said. “This information is a two-way process and can be very important in helping us as a community to crack down on this issue seriously.”