Morris Park struggles with absentee landlords

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Crowded homes. Driveways and streets packed with cars. Messy yards with overgrown gardens. Dishwashers draining water into a neighboring yard.

This is the state of many private homes as a new breed of absentee homeowner leases every square inch of their property in Morris Park.

To fight this blight Morris Park leaders are confronting the landlords with complaints, but with modest success.

“It’s getting worse,” Bobby Ruggiero, president of the Morris Park Alliance said. “What’s happening is the people who formerly lived here, have either moved or passed away, and they have left their home to their children who don’t necessarily live in the community. They have no idea if the renters are taking care of the property or not. And the renters don’t necessarily pay attention to the community’s concerns.”

According to Ruggiero, an even more disturbing trend is that some property owners are dividing up the homes and leasing or subleasing the rooms to more families than the zoning codes permit.

The practice, which includes converting basements, attics or garages into rentable space, can lead to many health, safety and fire protection issues.

Fighting the property owners is a very long process that begins by lodging a complaint.

Once a complaint is lodged, Department of Building officials are sent to the house twice. But if they are denied entry each time, the case lingers until another complain is lodged.

This continues until the DOB is able to get on the premise to issue a violation. The repeated violations rack up fines for the city, and help officials build a case to either have the property vacated or fixed by the city, at the expense of the landlord.

“You have to keep calling until finally they catch somebody, and that person lets them in,” Ruggiero said. “This needs to be changed. There’s got to be more teeth put into that law.”

Several years ago the process forced one home on Ruggiero’s block to close down an illegal garage apartment and clean up the property. Several homes on Wallace, Muliner and Hunt avenues, among others, continue to rack up complaints and bring down the neighborhood, Ruggiero said.

According to Councilman Jimmy Vacca, the problem can be seen in pockets throughout the district he represents.

“It’s become a little more profound now that there is difficulty selling houses,” Vacca said. “Many feel that when they move out, since they can’t sell the home, they will rent out the entire house, so it becomes an income-producing property.”

Currently landlords with outstanding violations and complaints on properties are permitted to build or purchase other properties. Vacca said he is working on legislation that will bar landlords from acquiringproperties until they address the violations.

“I believe landlords who have fines should not be allowed to build,” Vacca said. “When we have an absentee landlord, and there are issues of maintenance and illegal renters, these landlords should be held to the highest standards.”

Updated 5:17 pm, October 21, 2011
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