building plans

(Credit: Greg Pease / Getty Images)

A new law implementing mandatory penalties for repeated building code violations was signed into law just months after a deadly assisted living fire in New York led to the deaths of a firefighter and a resident.

Senate Bill S2884A, sponsored by state Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski (D-Rockland) and state Sen. Rachel May (D-Onondaga), adds a minimum $25 daily fine to current penalties after a property is in violation for 180 days. Unaddressed violations after 360 days would bring a minimum $50 daily penalty.

The $1,000 daily maximum code violation penalty remains and can be levied by a judge after a 30-day period allowing owners to correct issues. But Zebrowski said that amount is rarely imposed, prompting the lawmakers to push for strengthening code violation penalties. 

Zebrowski and May said that the tougher fine structure is designed to push municipal governments to act faster on properties that are not up to code and have languished under token fines. They also said it would end the culture of “build now, ask for forgiveness later” and end owners’ view of fines as the “cost of doing business” 

“Repeat offenders that violate building code and continually flout the law need to be held accountable for their reckless actions,” Zebrowski said in a statement. “These increased fines will add teeth to the repercussions and do just that.”

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed the measure into law Nov. 3. It goes into effect March 3.

A March fatal fire at Evergreen Court Home for Adults, a Spring Valley, NY, assisted living complex, highlighted enforcement issues. Two rabbis pleaded not guilty last month to multiple felony charges in connection with the fire. 

Spring Valley Building Department head Wayne Ballard and Chief Inspector Raymond Canario both have been charged with misdemeanors for falsifying business records and filing false reports on fire inspections.

Former Evergreen Executive Director Denise Kerr and former Evergreen employee Manuel Lema are each charged with misdemeanors for their actions before, during and after the fire. All have pleaded not guilty.

Over the summer, law enforcement seized documents from Spring Valley municipal offices, including the building department. Questions were raised about whether the assisted living community met fire and safety codes.