Overcrowded housing issue gets notice

By Anthony Coppola, Staff Writer, and Vic Monaco, Managing Editor
    HIGHTSTOWN — Several recent complaints from residents regarding overcrowding in borough houses, that prompted inspections by the borough’s construction code official, turned up some unfavorable results.
    Speaking at the Aug 4. Borough Council meeting, George Chin detailed several findings in houses throughout town exemplifying the problem. Mr. Chin said Housing Inspector Tim Murray assists him, along with administrative assistant Nellie Gomez, who acts as a translator.
    “Whenever we receive calls, we go into the house and look for signs of overcrowding,” Mr. Chin said. “Such things as like if there’s a mattress in the dining room or living room or key locks on bedroom doors.”
    Mr. Chin said borough code does not allow for sleeping in attics or basements, a common occurrence in his most recent searches.
    “Whenever we see that, we give the people two weeks to get rid of the mattresses,” he added.
    According to Mr. Chin’s verbal report, three Stockton Street residences were recently inspected, one of which, in the 300 block, was issued a summons due to safety issues on May 19.
    “In that particular home, three people were living in the garage,” Mr. Chin said. “They created unsafe living conditions by having a heater in the garage, extensive use of extension cords and no carbon monoxide detectors.”
    The other Stockton Street houses had people living in the attics, were issued letters, and the occupants moved out, according to Mr. Chin.
    Summonses also were issued for an Outcalt Street house with “overcrowding issues” and a residence in the 100 block of Oak Lane, where a tenant was renting the attic and basement as living space, Mr. Chin said.
    On June 10, a summons was issued for a home in the 100 block of Springcrest Drive, where a basement was being rented, according to Mr. Chin.
    On North Main Street, a home with two beds in the attic and two beds in the basement, also was issued a letter, Mr. Chin said.
    Mr. Chin said the borough has started placing seals on rental units and houses for sale stating the maximum number of bedrooms and occupants permitted.
    “This way they know not to try and convert a dining room into a bedroom,” he added.
    Mayor Bob Patten lauded Mr. Chin for his department’s work at the Aug. 4 meeting.
    This week the mayor said overcrowding issues are related to the different cultural background of some residents.
    “It’s like a hit on what we’re used to,” he said. “We want people to do exactly as we do, and a lot of people are not open to it (different lifestyle).”
    At the same time, the mayor said the borough encourages residents to report what they believe are housing code violations.
    “Take sofas on front porches,” he said. “Members of the Latino Advisory Council or Nellie Gomez will take to residents and tell them it’s not in the best interest of appearances, health and property maintenance. With folks living in attics and basements, you tell them and they say they didn’t understand (it violates local ordinances).”
    J.P. Gibbons, the North Main Street resident spearheading a petition drive to recall the mayor, said this week that he believes the report only occurred because supporters of the recall drive recently posted many overcrowding complaints on the Herald’s Web site. Mayor Patten disagreed, and Borough Administrator Candace Gallagher said she did not know what prompted the report.