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Southold Landlords Best Beware of The Town’s New Rental Permit Requirement

Three years after its adoption of legislation banning short-term rentals in Southold, and after extensive review and revision to address public concerns, the town board adopted a new Rental Permit Code at its December 18, 2018 meeting.  The ban on renting homes for fewer than 14 days was intended to stifle the depletion of affordable long-term rentals and curb noise pollution and traffic congestion caused by transient weekend visitors who use Airbnb or VRBO.  This new law has a much broader application to rentals for any term by owners of one, two, or multi-family dwellings within the Town.

The stated legislative intent of the rental permit law is the elimination of dangerous conditions and hazards to life, limb and property of residents of the town and others stemming from rentals of non-owner-occupied dwelling units that may be substandard in size or otherwise constructed in violation of applicable state and local building, electric, and fire prevention code requirements.

The law in sum and substance requires owners of rental properties to obtain a permit from the Town’s Code Enforcement Official before the rental occupancy commences.  The proposed rental dwelling must have a valid Certificate of Occupancy or Pre-Certificate of Occupancy as a pre-requisite to the filing of a rental permit application. The law requires that the rental dwelling be equipped with smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors and each dwelling is subject to inspection to confirm its compliance with all applicable housing, sanitary, building, electrical and fire codes, rules and regulations.  Homeowners may request an inspection by a Town Code Enforcement Official or submit a Certification by a professional engineer, architect, or home inspector licensed in New York State.  An application fee of $100, established by resolution of the Town Board, is required upon application.

A duly issued rental permit is valid for a period of two years.  A permit may be renewed at no cost if the homeowner makes application to the Town Code Enforcement Official 90 days prior to the expiration of the permit.  The renewal is subject to an updated inspection report.  The town may revoke a rental permit if a violation is allowed to remain for more than 14 days after written notice by the town.  An appeal of revocation to the town board will stay the revocation pending determination.

A first violation of the new rental permit law is punishable by a minimum fine of $500 and a maximum fine of $5,000 or imprisonment of up to 15 days.  Fines are doubled for subsequent offenses within five (5) years. The law holds brokers and agents who list properties for rent without a rental permit equally responsible as the owner.  Although the law is immediately effective, the enforcement is stayed until August 1, 2019, to allow homeowners to apply for permits.

Current and would be landlords in Southold would be well advised to take immediate steps to bring their rental dwellings into compliance and to apply for a certificate of occupancy if need be.  In light of the fact that, in addition to the designated Code Enforcement Officers, the Town Board has granted enforcement authority to all Town Building, Zoning, Electrical and Plumbing Inspectors, the Fire Marshalls and even the Stormwater Manager and Town Engineer, it seems clear that come August 1 of this year, the Town will have all hands on deck to enforce this law.