In January, Riverhead landlord Rickey Taylor promised the town that he would make his rental home on Hamilton Avenue safe to live in by addressing code violations, getting building permits and clearing out the property, which had been targeted in a pair of town raids.
Now, nearly five months later, Mr. Taylor has made good on some of those commitments — not only for that house, but four others as well. And town attorneys say that, for now, he has avoided being held in contempt of court.
In January, a county judge had ordered Mr. Taylor to meet with town officials, evict tenants living illegally in his houses and “immediately” begin addressing electrical and building code violations and obtaining necessary permits.
Town attorney Bill Duffy said that Mr. Taylor has applied for some building permits, but not all that were required.
But an inspection Tuesday at Mr. Taylor’s properties found more progress than the town had thought: Mr. Taylor had emptied out the basements, which were reportedly overcrowded, fixed electrical issues and installed smoke detectors throughout the houses.
“The inspection showed that he has made a lot of improvements at the homes,” Mr. Duffy said Wednesday. “We didn’t see any sign of overcrowding … We’re not as concerned as we were.”
The town will still seek fines against Mr. Taylor, but the amounts depend on how quickly he continues to fix his properties.
“We’re not satisfied by any means,” Mr. Duffy said. “We definitely have his attention now. Now we’re going to start seeing a lot more progress. I wish we didn’t have to threaten him. I wish when he bought the houses, he would have gotten the permits and done the right thing. I wish the overcrowding had never occurred. But now we’re trying to fix it.”
Mr. Taylor and his attorney, Brian Doyle, were seen Tuesday leaving Town Hall with local fire marshals and code enforcement and building department inspectors as they conducted a final survey of the properties before Wednesday’s court appearance.
Mr. Taylor and Mr. Doyle both declined to comment when approached at Town Hall.
Town code enforcement have raided Mr. Taylor’s property at 331 Hamilton Ave. twice in the past 14 months, finding 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 a town statement.
Inside the Polish Town residence, authorities allegedly found that at least five people had been living in the unfinished basement, which was split into four living areas containing “personal belongings, mattresses and bedroom furnishings,” the statement reads.
Mr. Duffy said the Hamilton Avenue property had the “most egregious” violations, adding that the town has since included four other houses on three other properties — 368, 379 and 381 Sweezey Ave. — in its lawsuit against Mr. Taylor.
Mr. Duffy said the town was initially focused on making sure those living in the reportedly unsafe conditions moved out, and is now ensuring that Mr. Taylor follows the judge’s orders.
“It could have moved quicker,” Mr. Duffy said. “The issue still has to be resolved.”
Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter didn’t comment on Mr. Taylor’s case specifically, but said the town would continue to step up enforcement at overcrowded properties. Mr. Walter said police officers on patrol downtown are now working with code enforcement to identify houses that may be overcrowded.
But the supervisor said that enforcement isn’t as easy as just going onto the properties to look for violations; the town must get a search warrant before conducting a raid.
“It’s a difficult standard to overcome to get search warrants,” he said. “You have to have evidence … You really have to be there, the eyes on the street. That’s why combining our police department with code enforcement efforts seems to be working.”
No legal action was taken against Mr. Taylor Wednesday. The parties will go back to court in a month to check up on his progress.