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A public hearing will be held Aug. 17 on a proposed Riverhead Town Code amendment related that takes aim at overcrowded and substandard rental housing in the town.

A proposed revision to Chapter 263 of the town code attempts to define the “functional equivalent” of a family and would make unlawful the occupancy of a rental dwelling by a group that doesn’t comply with the new definition of “family or functional equivalent” of a family.

The proposed code spells out the criteria for determining whether a group of people occupying a dwelling is the “functional equivalent” of a family.

It lists as “presumptive evidence criteria” the following requirements for the “functional equivalent” of a family:

(1) The group is one which in structure and function resembles a traditional family unit; and

(2) The occupants must share the entire single or one-family dwelling unit and live and cook together as a single housekeeping unit. A unit in which the various occupants act as separate roomers may not be deemed to be occupied by the functional equivalent of a traditional family; and

(3) The adult occupants share expenses for food, rent, ownership costs, utilities and other household expenses; and

(4) The occupancy is permanent and stable. Presumptive evidence of permanence and stability includes, but is not limited to:

  • (a) The presence of minor children regularly residing in the household who are enrolled in local schools;
  • (b) Members of the household have the same address for purposes of voter registration, driver’s licenses, motor vehicle registration, filing of taxes and delivery of mail;
  • (c) Members of the household are employed in the area;
  • (d) The household has been living together as a unit for a year or more, whether in the current dwelling unit or in other dwelling units;
  • (e) Common ownership of furniture and appliances among the members of the household; and
  • (f) Any other factor reasonably related to whether or not the occupants are the functional equivalent of a family.

The proposed revisions also seek to tighten up the procedures for obtaining the rental permit required by the town in order to lawfully rent a dwelling unit. Owners of rental dwellings are currently required to obtain rental permits from the town, which are valid for two years. The proposed code revision would still require the rental permit, but adds a temporary rental registration, valid for 90 days from the filing of a completed rental permit application.

During the 90-day period and before the permit will be issued, the property owner would be required to arrange for an inspection of the rental dwelling by a town code enforcement official. In the alternative the owner can provide an inspection report signed by one of the following: a New York State licensed professional engineer, a New York State licensed architect or a home inspector who has a valid New York State Uniform Fire Prevention Building Code certification either as a building safety inspector or code enforcement official.

The inspection report must state that the dwelling unit meets all applicable housing, sanitary, building, electrical and fire codes, rules and regulations.

The proposed revision would also make it an offense to fail to renew a rental permit after 30 days of its expiration, punishable by a fine of of $100 to $250.

It also increases fines for violations of the chapter to: $500 to $1,500 for a first offense (currently $250-$1,000); $1,500 to $3,000 for the second offense within five years of the first offense (currently $1,000-$3,000); and $2,500 to $6,000 for the third or subsequent offense if within a period of seven years (currently $2,000 to $5,000 within a period of five years.)

Current provisions that make all offenses also punishable by imprisonment of up to 15 days would remain intact. Each week’s continued violation constitutes a separate additional offense under current code and would not be changed.

Another new provision says that, for purposes of calculation fines, violations are not “exclusive to a particular dwelling unit” but pertain to the persons, associations, firms or corporations owning or managing more than one dwelling unit in the town. This would allow violations of the code at different locations owned or managed by such persons, associations, firms or corporations to be charged as subsequent violations.

The proposed code revisions do not affect current provisions concerning transient rentals.

The public hearing is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 17 at Riverhead Town Hall, 200 Howell Avenue.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor and attorney. Her work has been recognized with numerous journalism awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She was also honored in 2020 with a NY State Senate Woman of Distinction Award for her trailblazing work in local online news. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.