Slumlord Sits on East Ramapo School Board and Spring Valley Zoning Board

February 5, 2010 The owner of the house at 38 N. Myrtle Avenue in Spring Valley has been cited numerous times within the last four months, and along with the health and safety violations, the Rockland County Dept. of Health has described the home as an illegal boarding house. Of the many violations throughout the building, it was noted by the inspectors that, "Some of these violations are considered to be life-threatening." The owner of 38 N. Myrtle is Eliyahu Solomon, a school board and Spring Valley zoning board member.

The USLegal website offers the following generic legal definition for slumlord: "Slumlord property" means residential rental property that has deteriorated or is in a state of disrepair and that manifests one or more of the following conditions that are a danger to the health or safety of the public:

a. Structurally unsound exterior surfaces, roof, walls, doors, floors, stairwells, porches or railings.

b. Lack of potable water, adequate sanitation facilities, adequate water or waste pipe connections.

c. Hazardous electrical systems or gas connections.

d. Lack of safe, rapid egress.

e. Accumulation of human or animal waste, medical or biological waste, gaseous or combustible materials, dangerous or corrosive liquids, flammable or explosive materials or drug paraphernalia."

The house at 38 Myrtle has received violation notices in a majority of these categories (three of five).

Built in 1900, the Myrtle Avenue house is described on the assessment records as a two-story, single family residence with 1,721 square feet of living area. The violations discovered by inspectors back in November 2009 had as much to do with how many and where the tenants were staying as they did with dangerous structural failings.

Responding to a complaint that the house was being used as an illegal boarding house, inspectors visited the residence and sent a letter notifying Mr. Solomon on Nov. 12, 2009, that the illegal conditions in the home were violations of Article XIII of the County Sanitary Code. The inspectors said they would return on Nov. 26, and if the violations weren’t remedied, there would be a formal hearing which could result in a civil penalty for up to $1,000 for each violation.

The violations listed in the report included: "The 3rd floor (top level of the house) is occupied but not habitable. People are sleeping and living on the 3rd floor. The heating system is on the 3rd floor and is a forced hot air heating system. Brian [Welty—an inspector] said the heating system appears to have problems. Four beds on the 3rd floor, no approved second means of egress, avg. ceiling height well below the min. req. 7’6". Tenants beds abut the furnace, tenant movements on 3rd floor are damaging the ductwork for the bldg. heating system. Exposed bathroom ceiling light wiring; there is no fixture. Oven does not function." There was a list of exterior violations as well from a Nov. 4, 2009 report, also prepared by Brian Welty.

On December 10, 2009, the County inspector returned to the house and noted this on his report: "Spoke w/tenant, 1st floor. She occupies apt. with family—husband and three children. In addition, 2 cousins live in the apt. Apt. has 5 bedrooms. 3rd floor still occupied."

At this time, Jonathan Weiss, the man who apparently manages the house for Eliyahu Solomon, reassured the inspector that the third floor tenants would be removed, and he requested a re-inspection to be done the next week.

A month-and-a-half after the legal notification was sent to Solomon, an inspection report dated 12/29/09 noted that all violations were corrected and the third floor was no longer occupied with the beds and personal effects removed.

Round Two
Less than two weeks later on January 10, 2010, Inspector Kevin Mackey called and left a voicemail for Jonathan Weiss, informing him that his Supervisor was told that the third floor at 38 N. Myrtle was re-occupied. Mr. Weiss answered with a voicemail assuring Mackey that "he (Weiss) will lock the 3rd floor entrance door to make sure the tenants cannot use it."

The next day, at 11:30 am, Brian Welty (Rockland County Health Dept.), Manny Carmona (Spring Valley Bldg. Dept.) and Jonathan Weiss (manager) all returned for an inspection of the house. The following is from Mackey’s report:

"Numerous violations exist. See Mr. Welty’s 1/11/10 inspection report. 1st and 2nd floors—2 different living areas. Illegal rooming house on the 2nd floor—4 men (2 brothers and 2 men unrelated to the brothers and each other). Overcrowding in the 1st floor apartment (3 children and 5 or 6 adults). 3rd floor vacated. Heating system on the third floor. Mr Carmona said it [had been] defective and leaked carbon monoxide."

The following violations appeared on Welty’s inspection report of the same day—1/11/10 (this is not the complete list):

"Rooming house living arrangement on 2nd floor.
Front cement sidewalk broken and uneven.
Rear 2nd floor door opens to lower roof (no guard or safety rails on lower roof edge. Piece of wood nailed across door on inside.)
Entrance door to 3rd floor opens partially—not even halfway.
No basement stairway handrail.
No handrail for the side entrance steps for 1st floor apt.
Open electrical fixture/box on ceiling in basement. Exposed wires.
Extension cord in use in basement.
No pressure relief pipe on basement water heater.
Moderate amount of scattered trash on the ground in the front of the house.
Junk on rear, lower roof including radiator. Air conditioner on front lower roof.
1st floor apt. appeared overcrowded. 5 or 6 adults and 3 children.
Portable electric heater in front bedroom in 1st floor apt. Tenant said baseboard heater not supplying heat.
Numerous extension cords in use in 1st floor apt.
Loose electric outlet on wall over sink in 1st floor apt."

A notice was posted at the site that the 3rd floor of the house must remain vacant. It read: "The third floor is not habitable. It must stay vacant until the violations are corrected and the Rockland County Health Department verifies the corrections."

On January 13, 2010, another letter warning Solomon of the consequences for failing to remedy the violations at 38 N. Myrtle Avenue. A copy appears below.

 Eliyahu Solomon owns three other properties in the Spring Valley/Hillcrest area with houses on Elm Street, Franka Place and North Cole Avenue. We have been told by the Dept. of Health that there is a history of violations at the first two of these locations. We have requested copies of those reports.

Serious Questions Remain
The accumulated records of the past four months at the Myrtle Ave. address not only call into question Eliyahu Solomon’s understanding of responsible civic behavior as a landlord, they also raise larger questions.

Should a slumlord who is willing to endanger the children living at his Myrtle Avenue house be serving on a school board? Recall that the County officials have written to Solomon explaining that "Some of these violations are considered to be life-threatening." Contrast the repetition of illegal conditions in his rental with the first item listed in the published Philosophy of the East Ramapo School Board: "We believe that our schools should help each individual develop to his fullest potential in the hope that he may contribute to society with dignity and self-respect."

Should a slumlord who is willing to repeatedly violate dozens of housing and safety codes be on a Zoning Board of Appeals in Spring Valley interpreting and enforcing for others laws for which he himself has shown limited regard?

That Eliyahu Solomon is on these two panels calls into question whether these institutions are broken. For him to remain unexamined on either would answer that question.

Michael Castelluccio
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