The multi-family home at 46 E. Second Street in Riverhead in January, the scene of a deadly Nov. 16 blaze that killed a family of five. File photo: Denise Civiletti

The Riverhead Town Board amended the town’s rental dwellings code last week to require all third-floor rental units have increased safety measures to protect occupants in the case of a fire.

The amendment, which passed 4-0, with Supervisor Yvette Aguiar absent, requires all buildings with third-floor rental units or more than two rental units, to have a secondary means of emergency egress, sprinklers and interconnected smoke detectors. 

The amendment also reduces the term of the town’s rental permit from two years to one year, which town officials said will allow the town to conduct safety inspections on dwelling units more often.

Town Board members proposed the code change after five people died in an apartment on the third story of a four-family historic home located on Second Street downtown that lacked a second means of egress.

[See prior coverage: Five victims in fatal fire were trapped in third-floor bedroom where they sought refuge from flames]

New York state Multiple Residence Law already requires that houses built with a third story both have access to a stairwell located in a public hall and second means of egress — either a fire-escape or enclosed stair unconnected to the first — accessible from the same story. In lieu of a second means of egress, a sprinkler system may be installed in the public halls and stairs, the law says. Town officials said code enforcement did not check whether the third-floor apartment has two means of egress because the building had a letter of pre-existing use.

[See prior story: Trapped by blaze, five people died in third-floor apartment that lacked second means of egress]

The amendment also requires that first-time and renewal applicants provide proof of existing homeowners insurance with their application. It also broadly revises some of the code’s language and increases minimum and maximum penalties for violations. 

The amendment also removed the fees for a rental permit from the code and gave the power to set the fee to the Town Board. Town officials said the added revenue from permit renewals will allow the town to hire additional code enforcement officers. The board passed a resolution alongside the amendment setting the fees for landlords who apply for two-year permits through the end of 2022 and for the one-year permits in 2023.

Bi-Annual Fees for One, Two and Multi-family houses

By resolution of the Town Board until December 31, 2022

PER DWELLING UNIT COSTS BI- ANNUAL FEE

  • One (1) bedroom $275
  • Two (2) bedrooms $375
  • Three (3) bedrooms $475
  • Four (4) bedrooms $575
  • Five (5) or more bedrooms $600 base fee (+ $100 per bedroom in excess of 5)

All other buildings other than: ONE, TWO OR MULTIPLE FAMILY DWELLING UNITS (as defined in the Riverhead Town Code) Including but not limited to APARTMENTS, GARDEN APARTMENTS and/or any MOTELS/HOTELS (as defined in the Riverhead Town Code) receiving rent subsidiaries from any agency to house non-transient individuals the below fee(s) shall apply.

FEE(S): $1500 base fee, plus $150 for each dwelling unit in excess of five (5);

Annual Fees for One, Two and Multi-family houses

By resolution of the Town Board after: January 1, 2023

PER DWELLING UNIT COSTS ANNUAL FEES

  • One (1) bedroom $225 [was $300]
  • Two (2) bedrooms $275 [was $400]
  • Three (3) bedrooms $325 [was $500]
  • Four (4) bedrooms $375 [was $650]
  • Five (5) or more bedrooms $425 base fee (+ $75 per bedroom in excess of 5) [biennial permit was $1,000, plus $100 for each unit in excess of 5]

All other buildings other than: ONE, TWO OR MULTIPLE FAMILY DWELLING UNITS (as defined in the Riverhead Town Code) Including but not limited to APARTMENTS, GARDEN APARTMENTS and/or any MOTELS/HOTELS (as defined in the Riverhead Town Code) receiving rent subsidiaries from any agency to house non-transient individuals the below fee(s) shall apply.

FEE(S): $775 base fee, plus $100 for each dwelling unit in excess of five (5)

The new amendment will apply to “at least one additional occupancy of a third floor residential structure which has a rental permit and exists pursuant to a Letter of Preexisting Non-Conforming Use,” Town Attorney Erik Howard told RiverheadLOCAL after a public hearing on the amendment was held.

The code amendment will take effect in 2023.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]