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Update: Enforcement or Harassment? Akhtaruzzaman Criticizes City Housing Inspectors

Councilman Akhtaruzzaman

PATERSON, NJ – About a month ago, the city hired 10 part-time housing inspectors to crack down on illegal apartments and other code violations.

But the enforcement campaign apparently has angered some 2nd Ward residents, especially those in the Bengali community, who say the inspectors come to their homes late at night and treat them disrespectfully, according to Councilman Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman.

“If they inspect the basement and there’s something illegal, I understand that,’’ said Akhtaruzzaman. “But you cannot harass people.’’

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[Editor's note: This story was updated on Monday to include comments from Mayor Jeffery Jones.]

Akhtaruzzaman said the inspectors sometimes come as late as 10 pm and their approach in checking homes has offended some Bangladeshi women’s sense of privacy. “The attitude of these inspectors is not really that good,’’ he said.

But City Business Administrator Charles Thomas said the inspectors only work in the field until 8 pm. After that, Thomas said, they return to city offices to fill out the paperwork. “They try to be considerate of the residents,’’ Thomas said.

The city hired the inspectors to address the large number of illegal apartments in Paterson, Thomas said. The inspectors are paid about $12,000 a year for about 17 hours of work per week, Thomas said. The fine for an illegal apartment is $500, he said.

“This is an important public safety and health issue,’’ Thomas said. Illegal apartments often have improper electrical systems and other safety problems, he said.

"Lives are being placed at risk,'' said Jones. "We are all required to maintaiin our properties, to make sure the apartments we rent are safe and to make sure it's up to code,'' the mayor added.

So far, Thomas said the inspectors have been going to locations where the city has received complaints about alleged illegal dwellings. After that, the inspectors will visit various parts of the city at random, he added.

Councilman Andre Sayegh said the situation presents a challenge for the city, in balancing competing needs of residents. “People are having a hard time paying their bills, so they’re renting out space in their homes to make ends meet,’’ Sayegh said.

Sayegh said he hoped the city could come up with a way for residents to take the steps necessary to convert extra apartments to legal status. Thomas said homeowners could go to the zoning board to have their houses converted to multi-family homes.

Jones also said property owners should go through the zoning or planning boards to get illegal dwellings in compliance. He said any council members suggesting the city not enforce the code requirements was putting political considerations ahead of the best interests of Paterson residents.

"How do you not enforce the statute?" Jones asked. "That's insane.'' 

Akhtaruzzaman said about 300 2nd Ward residents have signed a petition complaining about the inspections.

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