A fire last summer in a Noyac rental house, in which two young women died, has led nearby Sag Harbor Village to re-evaluate its own rental laws, with the goal of preventing another such tragedy within its jurisdiction. The village board held a public hearing at its March 14 meeting to discuss the matter. The village is learning that drafting such a law is easier said than done.
“I think the idea of this law is necessary,” said Aidan Corish, a board member, before taking exception to some aspects of it, specifically section 11.
Section 11 would require that a homeowner receive written certification from a licensed architect, engineer, or home inspector stating that the rental property complies not only with village code, but with “sanitary and housing regulations of the County of Suffolk and the laws of the State of New York.”
“I have found no architect, no engineer, who is willing to go near this or certify this,” said Mr. Corish. “I believe the responsibility should rest with the homeowner.”
He conjured up a scenario where an unfortunate incident at a rental house that had been inspected according to the new law, led to a lawsuit against the village.
“You’re being asked by the village to subsidize the activities of a neighbor who is making a profit,” Mr. Corish said. Instead, he said, the owner should have to sign an affidavit attesting that the house complied with the building and fire codes.
Thomas Gardella, the deputy mayor, who was one of the first responders at the Noyac fire, said his intent in sponsoring the law was to raise awareness and make rentals safer.
“What’s more important is, people who are renting these things need to make sure fire safety equipment is in place and updated. Whatever accomplishes that, I’m all for it,” he said.
Mr. Corish also wondered about enforcement, and how houses would be inspected: “We want to encourage compliance.”
Liz Vail, the Sag Harbor Village attorney, pointed out an additional complication. “You’re coming up on the season,” she said, wondering if the law would be passed in time for the start of summer.
“Around politics, it’s often said, ‘Don’t let a good crisis go to waste,’” said Mayor James Larocca. “I think this awful tragedy has awakened a lot of people to these rental activities, that go unaddressed and unregulated.”
Southampton Town had a law on its books, he said, “but it was so complex, and not enforced in any meaningful way.” The “worthwhile and necessary” challenge now was to write a law that was simple to understand, effective, and easy to enforce. “We do have a role now in safety that’s enforced by our fire marshal and code enforcement,” the mayor said. “This is not a gross departure from that type of activity, but it’s a work in progress.”
A Sag Harbor architect, Anthony Vermandois, spoke during the public comment period, echoing Mr. Corish’s concerns. He said the basic lifesaving codes regarding fire alarms “haven’t changed much since I’ve been practicing architecture,” but that sanitary and energy codes change frequently.
“It has to really be narrowed down to what are the life-safety issues, and not deal with how many leeching tanks there are in a backyard,” Mr. Vermandois concluded.