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Legal Beat: Clarkstown Seeks Court Help To Tackle Overcrowding In Single Family Residential Zones

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Clarkstown Takes Aim At Two Landlords Who Are Allegedly Converting Single Family Homes To House Illegal Immigrants

The Town of Clarkstown is besieged by illegal immigrants and is cracking down on two landlords housing undocumented immigrants in court cases filed in Rockland County Supreme Court, according to Clarkstown Town Supervisor George Hoehmann, and other public officials who held a press conference last week.

But town and county officials acknowledge that these cases are only the tip of the spear, and that multiple homes have been converted to illegal boarding houses, which present health and safety issues for both occupants as well as first responders. Additionally, the conversions cause both blight and impact quality of life for neighbors townwide who witness frequent cars coming and going, noise, excess garbage, and other activity that is antithetical to a typical single-family home.

While officials stress the problem is stemming from a recent influx of “illegal” immigrants coming over the southern borders, the issue is not new to Clarkstown, which has yet to prioritize the creation of affordable housing options.

On Monday, the Town of Clarkstown sought an order from Justice Keith Cornell allowing the town to access properties owned by defendant Simcha Schwartz, his LLCs, and managed by First Choice Property Management. The town is seeking court-ordered access to the ten properties Schwartz owns to determine if the homes are in violation of Town Code, specifically whether single-family homes have been turned into boarding homes housing large groups of non-related people.

The case began in September 2023 when the town issued violations at single-family houses in Nanuet, New City, and Central Nyack, for failure to file rental registry applications and for renting single-family dwellings without a certificate of occupancy. For example, at 4 Fulton Street in Nanuet, in addition to renting a single-family home without a C/O, the town also issued a violation illegally converting a single-family dwelling into a multi-family without a building permit.

But as months passed, the number of houses targeted in the case grew to ten.

Fines were originally sought in Clarkstown’s town justice court. Without a resolution there, the town filed in Rockland County Supreme Court last week. The town also filed a second case against Wilson Bermeo and several LLCs he controls, another landlord who is allegedly violating town code at seven properties. The town is asking the court for access to the properties, and to relocate illegal tenants and prevent additional tenants from occupying the homes.

On Monday, following a sidebar with Justice Cornell, town attorney Kevin Conway said he has conferred with Schwartz’s attorney and that they have discussed “an interim approach to getting matters resolved.”

The town utilizes a rental registry, which is an affirmation by a property owner as to how a building is being used and who is living there. Once a landlord fills out the registry, he is authorizing the town to inspect the premises to see if it is suitable for rental as a single-family home, as in these cases. In Clarkstown, a single-family house can only be inhabited by people who are generally related by blood or marriage.

Raymond Francis, Clarkstown’s code enforcement officer, said in an affidavit that rental registries had not been complied with, according to the suit filed by the town.

Schwartz’s attorney Joseph Churgin said in court that the rental registries had been filed with the town – before Clarkstown’s filing last week. An “affirmation” filed by Shmuel Berkowitz of First Choice Property Management, also a defendant in the case, said “Clarkstown seeks this relief based solely on the inaccurate claim that No Rental Registry Applications, as required by §157-2-62 of the code of the Town of Clarkstown, were submitted for any of the properties” listed in this action.

“This is an over-reaction,” Churgin told Justice Cornell in court. “We are allowing inspections. Nobody wants overcrowding. Nobody wins.”

Conway said the town has been to “one or two” of the properties.

In the suit, Conway said, “The Town seeks access based on good and sufficient evidence and inferences that the properties are being illegally rented and occupied by residents in numbers that violate provisions of the Town Code.”

“We have submitted rental registries in order to show cause,” said Churgin, adding that there is no cause for the Court to give the relief the town seeks. By submitting the rental registries Schwartz is consenting to give the town access and that action by the court is unnecessary.

Cornell gave both sides about a month to work out the issue.

In February, Clarkstown and Schwartz signed off on a stipulation filed with Rockland County Supreme Court in a similar case involving Schwartz’s property at 14 Cooper Drive. In that case, originally filed in 2023, Schwartz authorized the town to inspect Cooper Drive with 24-hour telephone notice. Schwartz also agreed to only use the house as a single-family residence and to a permanent injunction prohibiting him from using it as a multi-family, boarding house, or dormitory unless he could secure a certificate of occupancy. This property, despite Schwartz’s earlier agreement, is also part of the current case.

In the Bermeo case, the Clarkstown Police raided 401 Phillips Hill Road, where they found 14 occupants, and 180 Burda Lane, which had nearly 30 people in residence. The police report said they found many shared rooms. Rents ranged from $700 to $1,000 per month per room, and up to $2,500 per month for two rooms. Some occupants were not paying rent; while others did not know who they were paying rent to.

“When we executed search warrants, we also learned that (the people living there) are recent arrivals, from a few weeks to a few months,” said Hoehmann at last week’s press conference, adding many occupants are from Central and South America.

Wilson Bermeo is the owner of Nyack Fresh Supermarket, the Mount Ivy Diner, and Huerto del Eden Supermarket in Spring Valley.

A hearing in Bermeo’s case is set for June 13th at 10:00am before Justice Sherri Eisenpress.

Congressman Mike Lawler, who blames the Biden administration for his immigration policy and New York Governor Kathy Hochul for allowing New York to function as a sanctuary state, admitted that the severe housing crisis has factored into the conversion of single-family homes to boarding houses. Nationwide, Lawler says, we are six million housing units underbuilt. Clarkstown, like many suburbs, lack affordable housing options, particularly for the poor. It is also unclear as to whether all landlords are specifically filling houses with illegal immigrants or whether some are housing legal day workers who have nowhere to live.

Either way, Clarkstown says these landlords have created unsafe conditions and are “profiteering” off of vulnerable people.

Simcha Schwartz Properties: 14 Cooper Drive in Nanuet; 4 Fulton Street in Nanuet; 11 Louis Road in New City; 11 Waldron Avenue in Central Nyack; 12 Gillis Avenue in Central Nyack; 14 Albacon Road in Nanuet; 16 Albacon Road in Nanuet; 83 Hall Avenue in New City; and, 116 North Middletown Road in Nanuet.

Wilson Bermeo Properties: 2 Chestnut Park Court in New City; 53 East Street in West Nyack; 105 Poplar Street in Nanuet; 180 Burda Lane in New City; 401 Phillips Hill Road in New City; and 459 Phillips Hill Road in New City.