Annual inspections, mandatory sprinkler systems among proposed changes in Riverhead rental laws following fatal fire

The Riverhead Town Board hosted a public hearing Tuesday on proposed changes to the town’s rental permit laws following a deadly fire that killed five people in November.

The proposed changes include requiring rentals in town to be inspected annually instead of the current two-year review. Permits would be issued to property owners with valid rental occupancy registrations who have passed a safety inspection. The homeowner would also need to supply proof of homeowner’s insurance on the entire building and provide floor plans that include locations of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Some of the proposed changes apply specifically to three-story buildings, like the house where five residents were killed last year.

“Where there’s a structure that has three stories, and is seeking a rental permit, we will require that they have fire suppression systems and sprinklers and we will require secondary means of egress throughout the building but mostly for the third-floor,” Town Attorney Erik Howard said. 

Jim DeLucca, a former town building inspector, said the cost to install sprinkler systems and alarms could be about $50,000 for such landlords. 

“Are you requiring them to be put on all three floors?” he asked

Mr. Howard said the interconnected sprinkler system would be throughout the entire structure. 

Councilman Ken Rothwell suggested the town might help subsidize the costs of the systems since they would now be required.

One issue debated Tuesday was how many three-story homes there even are in Riverhead. It is believed there may only be a handful of them among the roughly 2,000 rental units in town.

The fines for a first offense under the proposal are not less than $500 to $1,500 or up to 15 days in jail.  The fines for the second offense range from $1,500 to $3,000 or 15 days in jail; and the fines for a third offense range from $2,500 to $6,000 or up to 15 days in jail.