Authorities say at least 18 men were living inside an overcrowded Hamilton Avenue house targeted in a code enforcement raid Friday morning.
In addition to numerous fire and town code violations, Riverhead Town officials found some of the residents were living in an unfinished cellar that had been divided into makeshift living spaces, as well as evidence that an unheated garage was also being used for housing, town officials said.
“These are unsafe conditions,” said Supervisor Sean Walter. “They put people’s lives at risk. These landlords need to be stopped and the town is doing everything in their power to stop them.”
After getting complaints from neighbors, Riverhead Town police, fire marshals and members of the town attorney’s office carried out a search warrant at the house at 331 Hamilton Avenue, a single family residence owned by Rickey Taylor of Southampton, according to a town press release.
Mr. Taylor couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.
Inside the Polish Town residence, authorities allegedly found at least five occupants were living in the house’s unfinished basement that was split into four living areas containing “personal belongings, mattresses and bedroom furnishings,” the release reads.
The men living in the basement had been sleeping on beds close to exposed wiring, insulation, and heating and boiler equipment, authorities said.
Town officials said the raid revealed a shortage of smoke detectors, inadequate egress, exposed wiring, “excessive” littering, and evidence that inhabitable space had been converted into living areas without building permits or certificates of occupancy, according to the town’s statement.
Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate was called to help find the residents of the allegedly overcrowded home new places to live, town officials said.
The house was one of four that had been targeted for enforcement last March, when the Town Board passed a resolution authorizing Supreme Court action against the property. Friday’s raid was a part of the enforcement action plan against that property, Mr. Walter said.
“Unfortunately it takes longer to build a case than we’d like sometimes,” he said. “We have the facts we need to restrain them from occupying that house at this point.”
Town attorneys will now seek a temporary restraining order preventing residents from returning to the house, Mr. Walter said.
“We can’t let people run roughshod over the town housing code,” he said.
While neighbors said that while they weren’t familiar with the property targeted Friday, one resident said she’s aware of overcrowded homes.
“If I work outside I see people and they say hello to me when they go by,” the woman, who asked not to have her name printed, said. “No one’s bothered me. I stay to myself.”
The resident, who’s lived on the block for nearly 60 years, said the neighborhood has “gotten worse” in that time.
“You knew all the people before on the street,” she said. “Once those people sold those homes, that’s when it started going down.”
Correction: A photo accompanied with this story earlier pictured a house on Sweezy Avenue.