Ramapo building and fire inspectors have found evidence of 22 apartments being occupied in violation of a state judge's order and town regulations at Mosdos Chofetz Chaim's adult student housing project off Grandview Road outside New Hempstead.
Ramapo inspectors find evidence of 22 illegally occupied units at congregation's development
By Steve Lieberman • Journal News
Ramapo building and fire inspectors have found evidence of 22 apartments being occupied in violation of a state judge's order and town regulations at a congregation's adult student housing project off Grandview Road outside New Hempstead.
Despite denials of illegal apartments by Mosdos Chofetz Chaim, 22 out of 44 apartments inspected on Feb. 7 had signs of people living inside, according to the town report.
While inspecting each apartment, inspectors found combinations of stored food, ovens recently used, personal items, beds, towels, furniture, laundry and other items like toiletries.
"Many of the units we found furnished and included personal items that were not present in our previous inspection in December," Chief Building Inspector Anthony Mallia wrote in a Feb. 10 letter to Town Attorney Michael Klein.
"Last time I didn't see things like food, splattered grease or personal items," Mallia said. "I have asked the town attorney for guidance on enforcement."
The inspectors also found the apartments were safe and the congregation had remedied most of the violations found in basements during a November inspection. The unfinished buildings remain in violation because they were built less than 10 feet apart. Chofetz Chaim representatives and Rabbi Aryeh Zaks could not be reached for comment.
Mallia said Zaks family members deny moving people into the development. He said they tell him people store their personal items in anticipation of moving in.
Mosdos Chofetz Chaim has permission to use no more than 16 apartments and only for religious school students at its Kiryas Radin development. The congregation is before the Ramapo Planning Board on environmental impact issues involving 60 apartments within the center.
Ramapo will turn Mallia's inspection report over to state Supreme Court Justice Francis Nicolai, who could issue fines against Mosdos Chofetz Chaim for contempt of his order and evict the tenants.
Nicolai has presided over a legal action against the congregation brought by four Ramapo villages, whose lawyers have asked for evictions and legal fees approaching $75,000.
Ramapo officials also could bring charges against the congregation for housing people without approvals.
"We have submitted the report to Judge Nicolai, and await his determination," Klein said. "We can independently start a Justice Court proceeding against them for using the units without certificates of occupancy or use."
Nicolai allowed use of 16 units in August 2009 if the apartments met safety codes. Nicolai made the exception despite his injunction when Rabbi Aryeh Zaks told him the families were from Israel and would otherwise be homeless.
The Feb. 7 inspection was the third since November, with each finding evidence of illegal use.
In late January, attorneys for four villages provided Nicolai with utility bills that indicated at least 17 more units were illegally occupied. Nicolai said the evidence was overwhelming; he called Ramapo derelict in its duties to uphold his order and town zoning rules and order another inspection.
Zaks filed for bankruptcy protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in January, contending that filing stopped Nicolai's hearing or any other actions against the congregation. A federal judge voided Nicolai's hearing on Jan. 31, meaning the villages will have to reintroduce its utility bills and other evidence.
[Hat Tip; Chatz.]