We have owned our home in Bridgehampton for many years and became full-time residents last April. Over the years, we have rented our home periodically, but only after applying and receiving a Southampton Town renter’s permit, as required by law.
What has always concerned me — but now more than ever, after my son and I joined the Bridgehampton Fire Department — is how many people who rent their homes do so illegally, and with potentially fatal consequences.
This was unfortunately brought home for me last summer by the tragic fire in Noyac, where two young girls lost their lives in a home that was illegally rented. In this case, as in many, many others, the homeowners had no permit to rent their home, which would have required a thorough safety check of the property.
Why isn’t Southampton Town making it tougher on homeowners who put the lives of their renters at risk by ignoring the law? Why isn’t Southampton Town tougher on the real estate firms who merely pay lip service to the law by asking homeowners to check a box to affirm that they have a permit, never having to attest to seeing the actual document? How can Southampton allow VRBO, Airbnb and other online rental agencies that continue to ignore Southampton Town code, both in terms of minimal length of tenancy and the requirement of a rental license, to continue to do so?
I posed these same questions to a nice guy at the code enforcement office the other day. He agreed with me but said, “We only have five inspectors and therefore ask people to report on their neighbors if they think they are renting their property illegally.”
While I am sure manpower is an issue, it cannot be an excuse. How about fining an offending homeowner $25,000 for renting their home without a permit, and issuing a much larger fine to the rental agencies? How about making it clear to both the homeowner and rental agencies that there is potentially legal, if not criminal, exposure in the event of tragedy?
In our case, we had to spend some money to bring our property up to safety code. Believe me, it was the best money I ever spent. After all, it’s not just the renters who were protected by making sure our house was safe but our family as well.
Clearly, Southampton Town needs to stop making excuses and do more to prevent further loss of life that will result from turning a blind eye to this ongoing rental time bomb.
One fine body…