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Post date: June 23 2004

Long Island Village To Reform Housing Code Inspection Practices

Attorney General Spitzer today announced an agreement with the Village of Freeport, Long Island that will result in significant reforms to its Building Department's inspection practices and enhanced protections for Freeport residents' constitutional rights.

In October 2002, Spitzer's office filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Latino households had been subjected to wide inspections, without the resident's consent or with consent that had been obtained deceptively.

The agreement with the Village of Freeport ensures compliance with the constitutional and statutory prohibitions on unreasonable and discriminatory searches and inspections while assuring public safety and building code enforcement.

"This agreement recognizes that the Village can enforce its housing codes and inspections in a way that treats all residents of the Village fairly and with respect for the law and the privacy of persons' homes," Spitzer said. "I am pleased that the Village has agreed to continue to reform its Building Department practices in a manner that will allow it to achieve these goals lawfully."

The agreement, which was approved by a federal judge earlier this month, adopts a "best practices" approach for the Building Department to conduct lawful inspections. Inspectors will obtain written permission from residents for inspections and may obtain such permission only after advising residents that they may refuse consent without fear of retaliation. Each attempted inspection will be digitally recorded and videotaped – a practice that has already been adopted by the Village.

The Agreement allows emergency personnel to call inspectors to the scene only in those situations in which housing code violations in plain view present imminent danger.

The Agreement also implements inspection procedures that protect residents against unreliable, biased complaints. Except in emergency situations, the Building Department will conduct a thorough investigation of any complaint against a residence prior to attempting an inspection, and evaluate the results of that investigation before conducting and inspection.

The Agreement also includes a process for residents who may be in violation of the Village's housing codes that allows them to come into compliance with the code.

"The Latino community of Freeport, particularly those individual homeowners who were subject to discriminatory searches, are very pleased that this agreement has been reached. We are hopeful that the agreement will compel other municipalities to reform their housing code practices. We are committed to working in partnership with the Village of Freeport to ensure that the settlement is appropriately administered," said Pascual Blanco, Executive Director of La Fuerza Unida.

"We are grateful that the Attorney General's office addressed our concerns and took steps to help correct long-standing practices that were unfair to Latino residents of Freeport," said Chris Lopez of the Freeport Neighborhood Association. "We look forward to working with the Village to ensure the reforms are carried out."

The Agreement's additional provisions include:

  • mandatory training of Department inspectors on constitutional laws and anti-discrimination laws concerning searches, and the terms of the Agreement with the Attorney General's office;
  • extensive recordkeeping, including requiring inspectors to keep daily logs and written reports on each attempted inspection;
  • the appointment of a Building Department supervisor to serve as chief compliance officer, who will oversee documentation of inspections and issue regular compliance reports to the Attorney General;
  • notice to persons charged with housing code violations of the requirements of the Agreement; and
  • a new process to review complaints about Building Department inspections, which will be handled by the Village Attorney's office.

The case was handled in the AG's office by Assistant Attorneys General Hilary B. Klein and Bureau Chief Dennis Parker of the Civil Rights Bureau; Assistant Attorney General Alvin Bragg of the Public Integrity Unit; Head of the Nassau Regional Office Juan Merchan; and Investigator Angel Rivera of the Investigations Bureau.

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