Should I let town inspector in my rental?

22 Replies | Long Island, New York

House is a duplex. Renting out 1st floor while I live upstairs. Got a notice of violation saying - "alleged illegal apartment, need to inspect premise". Dont see actual violation code on the notice. Not sure how inspector can inspect my place based on some allegation, and not based on some hard evidence. Do I have to let him in anyways? What do I do?

@Ankan Basak , my father-in-law is a city building inspector. If you're doing everything by the books, just let him in. He can make your life pretty difficult if he chooses, so best to stay on his good side.

Legally, you have to abide by the cities building codes, so there isn't much you can do to fight it if he says there's a violation. You agreed to these terms by buying a property in said city.

I am in Nassau and yes everything is legit on my end, thats why I am wondering why this notice even got posted. But theres never a house thats fully upto code from top to bottom, most even I may not be aware of. So I may end up opening myself up to that, so I am little fearful.

Call your town's/village's planning department, they should be able to tell you whether your duplex is legal or not. It depends on the code.  In Islip for example, if your two-family use has operated continuously since prior to 12/12/1967 (I think is when the code changed), you have existing non-conforming status.  But if the property was vacant or used for anything other than two-family for a period of 1 year or longer, the property loses existing non-conforming status.  And I've seen people thinking because it was a two-family at one point, like ten years ago, that they now have the right to do that, but then they get the violation notice.   If that's the case for you, I would check to see if your town has an ordinance allowing accessory apartments.  In Islip, as long as your property is in good standing with the town, you can legally convert up to 800 SF of space for almost any single-family house into accessory apartment space, subject to certain conditions.  You just need to apply for a special exception from the zoning board, which is easy, they get handed out to pretty much anyone as long as there's no sketchy stuff going on and there's not a lot of strong neighbor opposition.  Hope this helps.  But definitely let the guy in, whatever is wrong with the property you'll want to get squared away anyway. He's not going away, and the way town's deal with the public is based almost entirely on whether the person is being cooperative or not. 

"He's NOT GOING AWAY" is the definitive statement.

I went through this & it took a loooong time rectifying the so called code violations they could dig up as they walked around. We were then informed that the building had 14 permits outstanding (over 20 years) that had never been signed off. So it was our fault!!! We even had to get a commercial architect involved to sign off on all rectifications.

Our biggest issue was fire protection & after seeing a local 23 unit recently burn to the ground (cigarette tossed onto mulch) it was justified. I had to install a complete fire sprinkler system throughout the building.

But we always got a letter, then a text or phone call, not a notice on the door. The latter is usually reserved for a 'stop work' order. We finally resolved everything (took 24 months) & the 4-unit became a legal 6-unit. We didn't need to get a variance & no reassessment yet per se. The Bldg Insp. guys & my wife are now 'friends'!!!

At some point you will need to let the code official in the place.  Don't piss them off even if they are dead wrong.   It is fair to ask for the specific code reference so you can familiarize yourself with this issue and how to resolve it.  I would call them back and ask for this info first and then set up a time to meet.   Having a conversation can go a long ways.

I agree with @Jim Adrian and @Robert Hayes . I think the matter is showing proof of legal multi-family status. If you have Certificate of Occupancy or any other original plans or Building Department documents showing this they will probably waive inspection. I just hope you have written confirmation that the property is in fact a 2-Family. @Ankan Basak

Just my two cents, but for safety's sake, I would verify that the notice was genuine first by calling the municipal authority/agency responsible for generating such violations and notices to confirm that the notice was NOT a scam. Maybe ask them to send you the notice via postal service so you can be confident that the notice is not an attempt by a scammer to gain access to your home. These days you can't let just ANYONE into your home, ESPECIALLY on Long Island.

@Ankan Basak Nassau Long Island is notorious for illegal apartments.  A neighbor probably reported you.  You can check  if your property is a legit 2 family at this site, https://lrv.nassaucountyny.gov.  If a code enforcement officer posted the notice, your property is probably not a legal 2 family.  

@Ankan Basak I'm baffled and saddened at the responses from people here... Have any of you ever heard of the 4th amendment?! When the government wants access to your property they have an avenue for that; obtain a warrant from a judge. The answer should always be no, not without a warrant. There is nothing for you to gain and everything for you to lose. 

Originally posted by @Thomas N. :

@Ankan Basak Nassau Long Island is notorious for illegal apartments.  A neighbor probably reported you.  You can check  if your property is a legit 2 family at this site, https://lrv.nassaucountyny.gov.  If a code enforcement officer posted the notice, your property is probably not a legal 2 family.  

 Yes, I checked and it is a 2-family residence. So I am more baffled, whats the deal. 

Originally posted by @Robert Gilstrap :

@Ankan Basak I'm baffled and saddened at the responses from people here... Have any of you ever heard of the 4th amendment?! When the government wants access to your property they have an avenue for that; obtain a warrant from a judge. The answer should always be no, not without a warrant. There is nothing for you to gain and everything for you to lose. 

I think you are looking at it from the wrong angle. You don't want to make yourself look suspicious. The city/municipality is fully within their right to request proof from a property owner on the property use. No you do not have to let the inspector into your residence 'on their spontaneous demand' however the City can fine you for lack of compliance and make things very ugly for you. You will have to show compliance at some point.

When you purchase a property, you are automatically required to do certain things related to maintenance and safety usually per the City Code. Remember the City is there to protect the safety and welfare of the City's inhabitants therefore illegal residences are a punishable offense. It can even turn criminal if an illegal residence is not completed to code (egress, light and air, FD access) and a fatality occurs as the result. Unfortunately even if the owner is not aware they can be held partially liable. Better for the owner to comply and provide documentation to the city and if necessary oblige inspector with a scheduled visit if needed.  

Originally posted by @Ankan Basak :
Originally posted by @Thomas N.:

@Ankan Basak Nassau Long Island is notorious for illegal apartments.  A neighbor probably reported you.  You can check  if your property is a legit 2 family at this site, https://lrv.nassaucountyny.gov.  If a code enforcement officer posted the notice, your property is probably not a legal 2 family.  

 Yes, I checked and it is a 2-family residence. So I am more baffled, whats the deal. 

 Take your documentation and the violation down to Municipality/Department of Buildings and request the violation be removed. 

@Jared W Smith Why would you be worried about "looking suspicious" to the city if they are only there to "protect your safety and welfare"? 

It's not about looking suspicious; it's about liberty, freedom, privacy and property rights. The city can try and fine you for a violation of law but of course they would need to prove that violation in court. The same court they would need to go to in order to obtain a warrant for entry into your property. It's called due process.

If you read his original post; it said he received a violation notice saying "alleged illegal apartment, need to inspect premise"  Therefore they have no evidence of anything illegal they have an allegation. If the apartment is illegal then they should proceed to prove that in a court of law and the owner will have to deal with that. The owner is under no obligation to prove that the property is legal. The burden of proof rests with the city. My point was, he has nothing to gain by allowing entry into his private property and he has lots to lose. 

@Robert Gilstrap You're missing my point and this seems outside of your wheelhouse. No you don't have to abruptly allow them into your premises but a scheduled visit is not absurd. 1- Typically when you do any alteration work in your home/property, as part of the paperwork submitted to the city, you as owner are allowing the city access to inspect and ensure compliance with City/Building Codes. 2- Go to court to fine you?? Nope. Building Department can impose fines direct to property Owners on a list of infractions. Yes they can be waived at a later date if proof is shown however the city is not taking owners to court for legality of use. The burden of proof is on the owner, not the city.  

My MAIN POINT is he could lose a lot by muddying up the water and making it bigger than it is. If it were me, I'd present the documentation I have to the building department with the written violation and request it be removed. If you have sufficient proof, they will likely not visit and close issue. Done. And if they still request a visit, what then? You're going to tell the City to go get a warrant? Good luck with that. Very poor direction in my opinion.   

Many have considered me to be an expert in this area having dealt with City Municipalities in and surrounding NYC and in the Hudson Valley expediting for more than 10 years. There is an art to dealing with them. You don't burn bridges you may need in the future. I've said all I need to say, and I think @Ankan Basak can take it from here. Good Day all      

@Jared W Smith Definitely not outside my experience having managed thousands of properties over the last 26 years but I take your point. I value my constitutional rights higher than many and perhaps our views on the role government should play in our individual lives is just different. No big deal; different strokes for different folks. 

I'm not telling anyone to make trouble or stir up something I'm saying he should be aware of what his rights are and just because someone posts a violation notice on your door doesn't mean anything and no in fact the city cannot just fine you where you have no recourse in court. If you don't pay a fine then what happens? Ahhhh, court right? So that's where I was going with that. All this other info you offer about compliance with city codes and alterations to the property is just superfluous information. He never mentioned anything about altering the property or getting building permits. He simply said he got a notice on his door asking for the city to come in and inspect. 

And the burden of proof on an allegation of a crime is on the accuser not on the accused (although watching our news these days one might not believe that's true any longer.)