North Haven Village May Hire Town to Enforce New Rental Regulations

North Haven residents gathered in Village Hall to hear about the mayor's proposed new rental law and its enforcement. Peter Boody photo

The Village of North Haven may hire Southampton Town’s code enforcement department to issues summonses and prosecute violations of its proposed new rental law, which could be adopted as early as next week.

Mayor Jeff Sander disclosed the possible arrangement when he, Trustee Dianne Skilbred and Clerk-Treasurer Eileen Tuohy met with a group of residents to answer questions about the proposed rental law on Saturday morning, February 29, in Village Hall.

Mayor Sander said he would be meeting with town officials this week to learn how their code enforcement process works and to discuss using it to handle North Haven’s code enforcement needs, at least for a year. In the long run, the village might hire its own code enforcement office, he said.

“We do issue stop work orders and warnings” for building and zoning violations, Mayor Sander said, noting they are handled by Building Inspector George Butts, “but I don’t recall in my experience any enforcement action to impose fines” for other violations of the village code.

Mr. Sander was first elected to the Village Board as a trustee in 2007. He became mayor in 2013.

The mayor said that paying for code enforcement will be a key topic when the board begins this month to discuss the coming 2020-2021 fiscal year’s budget, which must be adopted by May 1.

His proposed rental law would limit the number of rentals to no more than one per two-week period but would set no minimum or maximum rental duration. It will be the subject of a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 10 in Village Hall. If there is no significant opposition or need for major changes, the Village Board could adopt it then after closing the hearing.

Unlike the current law, which requires owners to obtain permits only for summer rentals, the proposed code would require landlords to obtain a permit at any time of year. It would be good for two years, during which time owners could rent their properties for any duration but not more frequently than once every two weeks.

The proposal also includes extensive new language to make it easier to enforce the limit of rentals to single-family use.

About 18 people attended the informal session on Saturday, most asking questions about how the new code would work. “We’re a young family facing college for three boys,” said Tom Little, who was under the impression the law would prohibit rentals lasting less than two weeks. Neighborhood nuisance problems have more to do with “the quality of the tenant, not the duration,” he said, asking why not set a one-week limit.

“That’s a good point,” Mr. Sander said, noting that many people who live in North Haven need extra income to remain there so need to rent their homes, “and Airbnb made it easy” to do that. “The norm has become one week,” he acknowledged, and the proposed code allows one-week rentals. “You just can’t do two in a row,” he explained.

Cindy White said she and her husband rent their house for the season and worried that the new code will complicate the process and add new expenses. The mayor and Ms. Tuohy explained that the proposed $400 fee to have Building Inspector Butts conduct a required inspection would cover two years, effectively the same rate as the current fee of $200 for a single-season permit. The fee would be $250 if the owner has a licensed architect certify that the rental property meets all code requirements, eliminating the new for an inspection.

The mayor explained that violations of the rental law would first prompt a warning, giving the owner 30 days to comply before a summons to Southampton Town Justice Court. Fines would be “not less than $250 nor more than $2,500 or imprisonment for period not to exceed 15 days, or both,” for a first offense, according to the proposal. Second-offense fines would range from $4,000 to $5,000 or six months in prison, or both.

A copy of the code appears in a legal notice on page A11 of the February 27 edition of the Express.

Conor McCarthy, president of the North Haven Point Homeowners Association, urged the village not to give owners a 30-day grace period. He called it too lenient. The people who cause disturbances with noisy parties “don’t care,” he said, adding that the village “needs to front load” its enforcement with immediate high fines.

The mayor called it a “good point” and added, “The intent here is to minimize disturbances. Somebody could wing it” and ignore the village code “but if it’s a good tenant it’s not going to be an issue.” He said a higher application fee of $500 could be imposed on owners who fail to obtain a permit.

Meg Farrell, who has steadily complained at Village Board meetings about “three party homes directly next to me” on the water in North Haven Manor, said the 30-day grace period would allow recalcitrant landlords to consider it “just a gamble to see if the mayor really follows through.” Meanwhile, it took “six and a half months” of her complaining “to get one person” in the North Haven Manor Association “to fix his rental situation,” she said.

Problem houses are a “very, very small percentage” of village rentals, Mayor Sander said after further discussion. “We need to be very aggressive with those people” but “most respond when we raise issues” about code violations, he said.

Susan Reed, president of the North Haven Manor Association, called on the village to “do a different thing for disturbances” as opposed to technical violations of the rental code. The mayor agreed that “there should be a fine right away,” he said — for noise violations, for example, or violations of the public assembly code, which limits “mass gatherings on private property.”