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Crackdown on Illegal Housing/Converisons

Stiffer Fines Discussed During Public Portion of July 9, 2012 Caucus Meeting

PERTH AMBOY – The City Council was taken to task by local residents who wanted them to look at what surrounding communities are doing in regards to illegal housing. Frequent Council Attendee Stanley Sierakowski said, “Our Council should look into what Carteret and Woodbridge have done. Not only are those towns fines much stiffer than what Perth Amboy is doing but the violators also are subject to jail terms.” Sierakowski also said, “Certified letters are sent to the landlords when violations are found and the landlords are also required to pay for the relocation of their tenants. Woodbridge Township is doing this town by town. Follow up is done within 48 hours to make sure the violation is cleared up.”

Resident Alan Silber wanted to know if the landlord of an illegal property has to pay his tenant any fees for up to six months when they are forced to relocate. “Landlords should be aware of the consequences they’re faced with for illegal conversions.” Silber also questioned the legal responsibilities of landlords if the tenants are not in this country legally. He referenced some of the apartments that had to be destroyed in the recent fires.

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Code Enforcement Director Ed Scala addressed some of these concerns. “A Certificate of Code Compliance is issued when a property is sold. If a property doesn’t meet the compliance then no certificate is issued. We issue about 400 certificates a year and are meticulous when we do inspections. Sometimes we have to get special permission to enter owner occupied single or two family homes. We found two properties on Cortlandt Street that had illegal units and the property owners have to appear in court.

Council President Kenneth Balut who is also a retired Perth Amboy Police Officer requested to have information on how many illegal summons were issued for illegal conversion of properties from the years 2000 to present. Balut said when he was active on the force he always reported any illegal housing that he found.

Councilman Fernando Gonzalez who is also a realtor said, “Pictures are always taken at property closings, and I know that code enforcement officers work very hard, but sometimes changes are done after the property is sold.”

Councilman F. Gonzalez also brought up an incident that happened a few years ago when a child died at a private home day-care center. “Something is going wrong. What can we do to alleviate this situation with illegal housing? And what has been done since that unfortunate situation where that young child died? Has anything been done to make sure this does not happen again? We have good minds in this town but someone is going to die in a fire. We’ve had three major fires and what can be done?”

Code Enforcement Director Ed Scala said, “My department is always open to suggestions.”

Fernando Gonzalez sounding very frustrated said, “The City has to come up with a plan to address these fires.”

Resident Ricky Aviles made some statements that he said would probably be very unpopular but true. Aviles stated, “Some of these fires were not caused by illegal housing. With Perth Amboy being a Latino Community there are many times where multiple generations will be residing in single family homes.” He used Councilman Kenneth Gonzalez as an example having his wife, himself, two kids and one in-law residing under one roof. Then he said, “Now Fernando Gonzalez, your house is too big for just you and your wife. You can probably take in a couple extra people. A large number of people coming into the City of Perth Amboy are single men who are working at more than one job and just need a single room – not a whole apartment. There were near riots when housing inspectors wanted to check for illegal housing because many of these people come from oppressed countries. A lot of churches are doing more than anyone to help the homeless.”

To these statements Fernando Gonzalez said, “Maybe what the City needs is more rooming houses.”

Councilman Joel Pabon in response to Aviles remarks said, “In Woodbridge Township it is not a Latino population that is being fined for illegal housing.” Several members in the audience nodded in agreement.

Mayor Diaz made comments in regards to the illegal housing situation. She first and foremost thanked the different departments for battling the series of fires in the City. She mentioned Harbortown, which occurred in December 2010, the Cortlandt Street fire in early June 2012 and ended with the State Street fire which occurred on July 5, 2012. She stated that she knows that Code Enforcement is doing their jobs because people have come to her asking for help with summons that they were issued. “My first question to them are: “Were there any violations?” And if they say: “Yes,” then tell them I cannot help them.”

In responding to what Mr. Aviles said about extended families living under one roof, Diaz related, “There were six of us girls in our family and sometimes other relatives stayed with us. With these fires that occurred adjacent properties were affected and sometimes residents have to be evacuated temporarily. If anyone suspects there is illegal housing, please call us.”

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