Building code concerns in Rockland County center on a dozen 'red flagged' properties
A Team 12 investigation is delving into Rockland County's building code crisis after two back-to-back fires.
The county and several lawmakers are focusing on a dozen properties that have been "red flagged" for serious violations and safety concerns.
Some include single-family homes that have been illegally converted to schools, with tents used as permanent structures, and duplexes housing as many as seven families.
Those are just some of the 12 properties, mostly in Ramapo and Spring Valley, that the Rockland Illegal Housing Task Force has 'red flagged' as potential firefighting disasters in the wake of two fires there. One of those fires was deadly.
"We've been saying for years that if this is not better prioritized in the town of Ramapo and surrounding communities, that people are going to die," said state Sen. James Skoufis.
Skoufis and Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski wrote the secretary of state last month about ongoing code enforcement concerns in Rockland's Hassidic communities.
"There's a clear cultural problem in terms of how code enforcement is treated and prioritized," said Skoufis.
In some locations, officials say violations on properties like Motty's Supermarket, which caught fire in February, date back decades.
News 12 first reported on concerns in 2016. Since then, the state appointed and then removed a monitor in Ramapo, while the Senate released a scathing report about Rockland's code enforcement - two years before the recent nursing home fire in Spring Valley claimed the lives of a resident and volunteer firefighter.
Rockland Illegal Housing Task Force Chairman Justin Scwartz alleges Gov. Andrew Cuomo is to blame, saying his politics trump safety when it comes to the bloc vote.
After reaching out by phone and email, News 12 received a response from the state late Tuesday afternoon calling the allegations "baseless and blatantly false."
Ramapo Town Supervisor Michael Specht also denies political favoritism.
"It's an ongoing vendetta by particular individuals," says Specht.