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In Southampton Town, Complying With Rental Law Carries A Heavy Burden

Publication: The Southampton Press
By Michael Wright   Jun 12, 2013 9:26 AM
Jun 12, 2013 10:03 AM
Southampton Town Board members struggled this week to find ways to ease the burden of state home safety and maintenance codes on homeowners seeking to comply with the town’s rental permit law.

Spurred by complaints from homeowners, town officials are wrestling with the need to inspect houses that are being rented to ensure safety and compliance with occupancy limits, while at the same time trying to avoid forcing homeowners to take on expensive modifications they might otherwise never have to make.

The town’s chief building inspector, Michael Benincasa, told the board at a work session on Thursday, June 6, that when doing inspections for rental permits, his inspectors are duty-bound to enforce the state safety codes, including any recent updates. That means some landlords, who must apply to renew their rental permits every two years, may be forced to make regular changes to their homes to remain in compliance, even if those changes are not mandated by the town’s rental permit itself.

“When an individual comes to do what they are mandated to do, which is to fill out a rental permit, and they are subject to inspection in order to get that approval, we tend to cite them on things we do not check to make sure other homes are in compliance with,” Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said. “No matter what, they have to be in compliance—even if they got a certificate of occupancy before certain requirements were in the state code.”

After it approved a steep increase in the fines for habitual violators of the rental codes, upping the maximum potential fines to $30,000, the board heard a chorus of complaints from homeowners who said they have sought to comply with the rental law by applying for permits but have found it onerous and unreasonably expensive to meet the demands of building inspectors checking on compliance issues.

Some residents had said that despite having certificates of occupancy for their homes that were issued less than a decade earlier, they had been forced to spend thousands of dollars to replace fencing surrounding their entire property because of updated swimming pool enclosure codes.

The town currently has rental permits issued for about 1,300 homes, with another 450 pending—many of those waiting for the approval of building inspectors to sign off on previous failed inspections.

Mr. Benincasa estimated that of the generally 300 new rental permit applications the town receives each year, 270 fail their first inspection because the house does not comply with various local and state codes. Most of the issues are minor and are easily, and cheaply, fixed. But, he acknowledged, the particular issue of swimming pool enclosures has been a problem for a large number of homeowners and can be an expensive one to remedy.

“Probably 75 to 80 percent of the pools in the Town of Southampton don’t comply,” Mr. Benincasa told board members. “Sometimes it isn’t an easy fix, especially if the fence isn’t in compliance—they may need a new fence.”

The issue, board members highlighted, is that while every house in the town must technically comply with the updated pool enclosures, the vast majority of homeowners will never be forced to make any changes, because a building inspector will never be on their property. But because the rental law requires an inspection before a permit is issued, and inspectors must ensure compliance with all current state safety codes, those looking to rent their houses have a heftier burden to bear.

Councilman Chris Nuzzi lamented that the state would propose to insist, in a technical sense though not a practical one, that every single home be required to make periodic changes, forcing the hand of local municipalities trying to enforce their own codes even when those codes would not otherwise require any modifications.

“It’s just another ridiculous mandate by New York State that is unenforceable,” he groused. “Do they think every municipality is going to send out inspectors to say that your pool that was built five years ago no longer complies—fix it? That’s ridiculous. If that’s the case, maybe we should petition them to change it.”

Board members said that the only way to free homeowners from the mandates of the state code would be to shield the eyes of the inspectors, which would mean removing the inspection requirement from the rental law—a change that, board members admitted, would largely remove the teeth of enforcement and open the door to abuse by the sort of unscrupulous landlords the law was meant to target in the first place.

Mr. Benincasa said that his inspectors could not simply be told to ignore violations of state codes that are not specifically referenced in the town rental law.

“Once you put one of my inspectors on that property, I have to enforce this code,” he said, waving the 24-page state property maintenance code book. “I wasn’t happy about the pool requirement going in here, but I didn’t have anything to say about it.”

Mr. Benincasa said that about the only thing he can do to ease the burden on homeowners would be to pick out some of the most common issues that come up within the state code and make a checklist for homeowners that goes with the rental permit application, which could at least help reduce the number of applications that fail to comply on the first inspection. Beyond that, he said, he tells his inspectors to be as nice as possible when delivering bad news.

“The only thing I can offer is a friendly person to help them through it,” he said. “I tell my inspectors that when you’re telling them to do something they don’t want to do, try to smile, apologize. It at least makes them feel better.”

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Didn't the nazis want to inspect homes and take guns before World War 2? Lets be honest here the law is made to keep illegals from living 20 in a house.
By chief1 (1364), southampton on Jun 14, 13 9:42 AM
Couldn't agree more Chief1. You forgot to mention the money made by the Town from the process. Simple solution. Enforce smoke detectors and Carbon Monoxide detectors. Enforce number of beds. Other than that, go away. This town turns good people into alleged law violators. Amazing.
By The Real World (167), southampton on Jun 14, 13 10:34 AM
Chief's wrong (surprise). You think that people renting their homes to 20+ "illegals" are taking out rental permits?

And Real World - the article makes it quite clear. The Town doesn't have a choice - it's state building codes that the inspectors are obligated to address. If someone has a pool fence that's not compliant with the most recent law, and someone is injured or dies because of it, the building inspector (and Town) can be held liable.

By Nature (2607), Hampton Bays on Jun 14, 13 10:42 AM
Nature, yes, they do have a choice. They can choose to make a regulation that says if you have a C of O you are automatically approved for a rental permit and then base that permit on occupancy (x amount of people per room or square footage)

We are talking about short term rentals here, a few weeks to a three months in the summer.
By progressnow (556), sag harbor on Jun 14, 13 11:15 AM
1 member liked this comment
"they" is the State of New York, not the town, where do you see anything about short term rentals?
By But I'm a blank! (825), Hampton Bays on Jun 15, 13 12:36 PM
Ah, the old let's protect our ASSets. So in essense, what you are saying is that it is o.k. for someone who does not rent their home to be injured because of living in a place that has a CO before newer laws were adopted. The town can set the criteria for the permit. Just like "pre-existing" non conforming zoning. It can be wiggled around. Total selective enforcement of laws. Sorry.
By The Real World (167), southampton on Jun 14, 13 10:55 AM
Building inspectors have a legal obligation to enforce all codes. They can't ignore them... what do you want the Town to do?
By Nature (2607), Hampton Bays on Jun 14, 13 11:05 AM
And you're missing the fundemental difference. If you own a home, you're the only person responsible for the conditions of the home. If you're renting a home from someone, it is expected that the home is up to code.
By Nature (2607), Hampton Bays on Jun 14, 13 11:06 AM
Nature you are really clueless. How could the building dept be responsible if something is wrong with someone's house? Why should the town take on additional liability of checking for violations of pre existing houses? If you own property be responsible. Citizens rights are under siege. The govt is tightening gun laws, freedom of speech, search and seizure, and even tapping private citizens phone calls. This is a free country stay out of our business.
By chief1 (1364), southampton on Jun 15, 13 8:42 AM
Nature you are wrong it is up to the tenant and owner to be responsible for the law. A building inspector can not be liable if someone doesn't follow the laws. If an accident happens and someone had bad brakes is it the cops fault? People have to be responsible for themselves not storm troopets from the town.
By chief1 (1364), southampton on Jun 14, 13 11:58 AM
Aint the cops fault - but you can blame the mechanic who just gave the car a tune-up the day before and said everything is OK.

And what percentage of people renting to "illegals" (at a clip of 20/house) take out rental permits?
By Nature (2607), Hampton Bays on Jun 14, 13 12:05 PM
If this is the problem as the inspector claims then the Town should allow a third party means of inspection for rental permits only ie. licensed engineer, architect or home inspector and not involve the Bldg. Dept. at all.
By nellie (446), sag harbor on Jun 15, 13 11:34 AM
Did anyone ever hear the term due process? If the town has a problem get a search warr. Why should everyone be punished with mounds of paper? It is time to get rid of Mike Benicasa he is clueless, from Brookhaven Town and is only there because he is related to a Republican politician from Brookhaven
By chief1 (1364), southampton on Jun 15, 13 12:21 PM
Chief,
Did you read the full story? If someone wants to rent their home out, they need a rental permit. Part of that process is to get the town to inspect the premises to ensure it is in compliance with town codes. The Catch-22 is that when the inspector sees a violation of NYS Building Codes, they may not turn a blind eye to it. i.e., if they let the pool fence that is not up to current building codes go, and the next day a kid gets into the pool and tragedy befalls him, the town would be ...more
By But I'm a blank! (825), Hampton Bays on Jun 15, 13 12:38 PM
Blank
You surely are blank. As long as an inspector is sober, and did his best to do a legal inspection he is not liable. Inspectors are not liable for any errors or omissions in NY. Ultimately the landlord is liable. Why would the town even want to get involved in this type of nonsense? Has there been drowning in unsafe pools in SH? Has there been a rash of fires in SH? No there aren't. Would the towns next move be to inspect everyone's house every year even ones not rented? This town needs ...more
By chief1 (1364), southampton on Jun 16, 13 8:39 AM
Once again Chief, you don't let facts get in the way of your opinion.
I am typing very slow as I know you are not a fast reader. If a homeowner wants to rent of his home, his is required by the town to get a rental permit.
As part of that process, a building inspector must inspect the house. The state from time to time updates building code requirements. Under normal circumstances, they mean nothing to a homeowner until a permit for something is required. Once the building inspector is ...more
By But I'm a blank! (825), Hampton Bays on Jun 16, 13 10:00 AM
Blank
My point is that the town is starting the process forcing people to invite the town into their homes. I don't understand what they mean by complying with health and safety codes.. The entire buildingl code is about health and safety. Is the town going to enforce every code or will it be selective? If the town has no rental permit law than it has no liability.
By chief1 (1364), southampton on Jun 17, 13 7:03 AM
If the Town has no rental law it only further encourages unsafe living conditions. How is a layman who can barely cobble together enough money to rent a home supposed to be reassured that he is living in a safe home? If we use your logic - let's just eliminate the whole building permit process. How dare the nosy town want to know what I'm building on my property!
By Nature (2607), Hampton Bays on Jun 17, 13 7:41 AM
Scenerio: Retired couple wants to go to Florida for the winter. They have been living in their home for the last 20 years. They decide to rent it from November to May to help cover the taxes. If they go for the permit, they may have to invest more than the rent would cover. If they don't, they are treated like criminals. You could sell the home and the new owners would not be required to bring it to current standards if it has a valid CO. Enforce occupancy laws, you wouldn't need the rental ...more
By The Real World (167), southampton on Jun 17, 13 2:46 PM
What assurance does a renter have that the house/apartment is up to code? If you buy a home, it's your responsibility. If you rent it, it's the landlords. House has a C/O from 10 years ago, ok great. But how do I know that the landlord hasn't done work that wasn't permitted in the last 10 years?
By Nature (2607), Hampton Bays on Jun 17, 13 3:08 PM
Don't rent it. God forbid a person does something without Big Brother's approval. You are not forced to rent someones house. Move on to the next one. So what you are saying is that a Tenant has no responsibilty to check out a place for rent? Excuses,excuses.....
By The Real World (167), southampton on Jun 17, 13 3:28 PM
Better yet with your logic all homes should be meeting the new code. If that's true any house over 8 years old doesn't meet the new wind code. Should we start tearing down all homes built prior to 2005? The town is barking up the wrong tree this rental issue is between a landlord and tenant. The tenant can easily get a home inspection for $300 if they are so concerned. The problem is the town is trying to make more work to keep their flunkys employed.
By chief1 (1364), southampton on Jun 17, 13 8:49 PM
The town of Southampton is acting like a co-op board. I could see enforcing the smoke alarms but they are focusing on such minutia like putting cages around bare light bulbs in a garage and basement. Is that a potential hazard? There is a difference between "Rental Property" and a home owner in the Hamptons renting a week or mth in the summer or winter. So now a homeowner is classified as a criminal if you rent for one week because the law says 14 days, and technically you would have to notify ...more
By judes2 (2), southampton on Jul 26, 13 2:07 PM
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