Editorial: Overcrowded homes are death traps; so why isn’t Riverhead acting?

No regard for human life. That’s what comes to mind when we read about, or report on, area landlords who are cited for overcrowding and otherwise dangerous or deplorable conditions at their properties.

There have been high-profile busts at five such houses in Flanders, Riverside and Northampton this year alone, with the latest occurring Tuesday in Northampton, where 32 tickets were issued to the building’s owner. Still, business must be booming; clearly there is no shortage of slumlords in the Riverhead area. Despite the authorities’ best efforts, punitive measures taken against absentee landlords aren’t enough to force them to clean up their acts, as the same people are often cited again and again for violations.

But at least Southampton seems to be taking the problem seriously. It’s hard to remember writing about such raids by Riverhead Town authorities in recent years. But anyone who lives or works in town can see that packed houses are plaguing many neighborhoods — and putting people in danger. Some of the same slumlords who’ve been busted for troubled properties in Southampton also own houses in Riverhead. Yet we’ll often hear about warnings or tickets issued by Riverhead Town code enforcers to small businesses over petty violations, like sandwich boards on sidewalks, improper stenciling in windows or even temporary signs papered in windows while a store is under construction. So the town isn’t short of resources.

In almost in all the recent Southampton raids, code enforcers have found inoperable smoke detectors, or none at all, along with illegal partitions, exposed wiring or even gas grills being used indoors. Such houses truly are death traps; it’s only a matter a time before tragedy strikes in one of them. Riverhead Town officials need to get their priorities straight, leave the easy targets alone and get aggressive with more important codes — ones that protect people. To turn a blind eye to the townwide problem of illegal and overcrowded housing is unacceptable. And it could cost someone’s life.