No go on a basement apartment ban

Greenport Village Board members will vote Monday night on a resolution to ban basement apartments.

At issue for the resolution’s sponsor, Trustee Chris Kempner, is safety, not only for residents, but for firefighters, who might have to battle a blaze in a basement where egress could be limited.

Without an extensive enforcement team, the village should modify its code because there’s no other way to assure that people aren’t living in unsafe conditions, Ms. Kempner said at last Monday night’s Village Board work session.

It’s not out of the question for the code to address potential health and safety issues, she said.

Trustee Michael Osinski joined the bandwagon, saying that there are basement apartments in the village occupied by illegal immigrants who are crowded into small spaces with substandard conditions. They don’t feel they have any recourse to complain about poor living conditions because of their illegal status, he said.

“This is a good way to stop something that could slip by that could be a danger,” he said.

The two trustees faced opposition from Mayor David Nyce and Trustees George Hubbard and Mary Bess Phillips.

While he said he shares concerns about safety, the mayor argued there are already regulations on the books that need stricter enforcement. Only if enforcement doesn’t work should the village look to ban basement apartments, he said.

Code enforcement “needs to be ramped up,” the mayor said.

“I don’t think this is going to solve the problem,” Mr. Hubbard said of the proposed ban. As a firefighter, he doesn’t want to have to enter a basement apartment lacking sufficient egress, he said, but a ban won’t reduce the chance that he’ll have to. There will simply be illegal apartments with constrained egress.

There needs to be a mechanism in the code that gives the village a way to inspect basement apartments, Ms. Phillips said.

The village does have authority to inspect apartments controlled by the Greenport Housing Authority, which provides housing for Section 8 low-income residents through the federal Section 8 program. Those residences, as well as those provided by the North Fork Housing Alliance, are inspected, village administrator David Abatelli said.

The code could be amended to provide for annual permitting of all rental apartments with an inspection clause, village attorney Joseph Prokop said.

If Monday night’s vote follows opinions expressed at the work session, Ms. Kempner’s resolution appears headed for a 3-2 defeat. But it could open the door to future regulation and inspection of all village rentals.

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