A domestic incident complaint in the Village of Brewster led authorities to discover evidence of illegal occupancy in the attic of a Progress Street house, according to officials.
Brewster Police Chief John DelGardo and Officer Tom Fisher responded to the two-family house at 8 Progress Street the morning of Aug. 14. While they were speaking with the complainant on the second floor, they heard footsteps above. They also noticed prohibited electrical connections.
DelGardo and Fisher asked if anyone was living in the attic, and the complainant said yes. They called upstairs and asked to enter the space, to which the occupant there agreed.
They found three beds in the attic. Photos taken (see attached) there also show a ceiling fan, exposed ceiling beams, a hole in the ceiling, a television, several chairs and an unattended candle.
The owner, Richard G. Allen, Jr., lives about 300 feet away on Prospect Street. According to records obtained by Patch, he’s due in Brewster Justice Court Sept. 16 for several violations: a finished attic, with insulation, Sheetrock and wiring, without first having applied for a building permit; makeshift electrical wiring; missing balusters on stairway railings; and the use of the attic as a bedroom, “despite having been warned in writing twice and verbally once” that the space was to be used only for storage.
Officials ordered the space be vacated immediately.
“God forbid there was a fire,” Code Enforcement Officer Joe
Hernandez said, anyone in the attic “wouldn’t be able to escape.”
An Aug. 13, 2012 letter from Code Enforcement Officer Joseph Szilagyi to Allen references a previous onsite inspection. Hernandez reportedly told Allen at that point “you cannot use the attic as living space of any kind.”
Allen, who has filed with the Putnam County Board of Elections as a candidate for village mayor, told Patch he bought the Progress Street house in 1995. He said he and his son lived there for a period of time, but now it is a rental property.
“When you rent to someone you really don’t have much control,”
Allen said when asked to comment on the violations. “You can inspect your own
property once in a while, but if the renter does something behind your back you
don’t know it’s one of those things.”
Allen told Patch he had received “nothing in writing” about this month's violations.
A letter sent in November 2011 from Szilagyi to Allen notes
that an air conditioner was visible in an attic window that summer. After stating that files show the attic
space is for storage only, Szilagyi said the Village had “reasonable public
safety concerns about this apparent extension of living space into the attic.”
Here’s an excerpt from that letter:
“Since the 1960s, the Village has worked to discourage the extension of living space into attic areas of wood frame structures greater than one family occupancy. The experience of the Fire Service probably has shown that in a fire, persons above the second floor of these buildings are rapidly engulfed in smoke and heat and the height of any windows make rescue significantly more difficult and unlikely. The record of deaths due to such occupancy is apparently very high, because State Building Code requirements that would allow attic habitation are very strict, requiring a substantial fire escape, fire sprinklers and fire barriers.”
Hernandez called the violations serious. He said in the event of a blaze, firefighters would be trekking up a narrow staircase with tons of equipment to “save someone who shouldn’t be there in the first place.”
instructs his officers to be on the lookout for code violations during calls.
He and Hernandez acknowledged that there are fewer instances of illegal housing in
the village than in years past—Hernandez estimates one or two every few
months—but there are still “pockets” of buildings in violation.
“We don’t want to go backwards now,” DelGardo said.
Check back with Patch soon for a story on Allen's candidacy.