A lawsuit on behalf of the family of two women killed in a Noyac house fire in August points correctly to the complicity of local governments in a massive, often unsafe, and effectively unregulated housing economy. State, county, and local officials have known for years about the risk; perhaps the courts will now force them finally to act.
Lawyers for the Wiener family, whose two adult daughters died that night, have also said two online agencies, Vacation Rentals By Owner and HomeAway, were guilty, too, for making false claims that the house had adequate safety measures. The suit specifically deals with the Southampton Town tragedy but reflects conditions across the region and throughout the short-term rental sector. A lawyer for the Wieners has said that the town “through deliberate indifference” exacerbated a known hazard in which countless properties were being rented without having passed necessary inspections. It is the same in East Hampton Town, where thousands of listings can be found on any given day for rentals without the requisite, if barebones, permit.
A representative of the owners of the Noyac house where the women died has said that they are victims, too. This seems a vulgar stretch, as they were alleged to have nonfunctioning fire and carbon dioxide alarms on the property and to have illegally built the outdoor cooking area suspected as the cause of the blaze. What can be said is that Southampton Town failed them, too, in allowing the rental industry to grow beyond the town’s capacity to make sure it is safe.