Federal court dismisses challenge by absentee landlords
A federal judge has upheld the legality of the Town of Huntington’s regulations for non-owner-occupied rental housing units, dismissing a suit that had been brought by a landlords’ group that had challenged the requirements that they obtain permits and certify that the units meet all Town, Suffolk County, State and Federal codes.
In a 35-page decision, U.S. District Judge Sandra Feuerstein rejected claims by the landlords’ group Citizens for Fair Housing Inc. and landlord Jean Mamakos that the two-year-old regulations violated various constitutional rights and ordered that the case be dismissed.
“This decision affirms that absentee landlords have an obligation to ensure apartments are safe for tenants, for emergency personnel who might be called to those addresses, and for homeowners concerned about their property values and preservation of their neighborhoods,” said Councilwoman Tracey A. Edwards, who sponsored both the original legislation that took effect in 2015 and the modifications approved last year which also extended the time of the permit from one year to two years. “This was never an attempt to violate a landlord's constitutional rights. As a government, we do have a responsibility to make sure that absentee landlords are held to the same safety standards as owner-occupied landlords and that dwelling units meet building and fire codes. That is what these regulations are designed to ensure.”
“As the court decision noted, Huntington’s regulations were carefully crafted to address provisions in similar regulations elsewhere that had not passed legal muster,” Supervisor Frank P. Petrone said. “Now that the legality of Huntington’s code has been affirmed, we can continue its vigorous enforcement to help protect renters and assure neighbors that absentee landlords need to keep their properties up to code.”
The code was first approved in December 2014 (effective in 2015) and revised in 2016 to reflect experiences over its first year of operation. The key provisions, as enacted and amended:
• Require rental permits for any non-owner-occupied rental property or dwelling unit and make it unlawful for the owner or managing agent to rent without a valid rental permit having been issued.
• Established procedures, and fees, for applying for the permits, which must be renewed every two years.
• Require that the application include a certification from a licensed professional engineer or architect, an independent state certified code enforcement officer or a Town code enforcement officer, that the property complies with Huntington Town, Suffolk County, state and federal codes, laws and regulations. If the property is not in compliance, no permit will be granted and violations will be issued, if applicable.
• Make it unlawful for the owner or managing agent of a property to submit false or misleading statements or to submit for filing a certification or other document generated by someone who did not inspect all portions of the rental property. Licensed professionals such as engineers and architects are liable for the same penalties as the property owners they represent if they make erroneous statements that falsify information about the condition of the rentals.
The requirements apply to non-owner-occupied residential buildings. Property owners with accessory apartments were already covered by similar regulations.
Since the law took effect, the Town has issued 1,150 rental permits, with another 200 pending.
View the full decision.