HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- A Long Island town is cracking down on overcrowded, illegal rentals after a fire broke out inside one earlier this month, killing an elderly man.
The windows are boarded up at 63 Devon Road, but neighbors still remember the bone-chilling moments from the early morning fatal fire on Nov. 13.
"My daughter said, 'Mom, poor man, why he can't get out of the basement?'" neighbor Lizeth Cespedes said.
Hempstead officials say 16 people resided inside the illegal rental property that became a deathtrap for an 81-year-old tenant living in the basement where the fire started.
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Building Department records indicate the home had no rental permit, illegal attic and basement occupancy, and a lack of egress among other violations.
On Wednesday, the mayor announced a crackdown to prevent future tragedy.
"We wanna address what I like to call predatory landlords that put profit before the safety of people," Mayor Waylyn Hobbs Jr. said.
The village doesn't know how many illegal rentals there are, but it has hired a dedicated prosecutor, as well as two complaint investigators, to focus on building violations.
"Tell signs like too many garbage cans being placed out for pickup. There are certain things they'll be looking for," Hobbs said.
Officials say they will also begin enforcing fines for landlords who do not have rental registration permits.
Families say these added measures are overdue.
"I think it's good. It's good idea because it's saving lives," neighbor Patricia Morales said.
"I think more inspectors because more secure for the people," Cespedes said.
The first offense for not having a permit will cost violators $3,000-$6,000 or imprisonment of up to 15 days.
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