The fire that killed two sisters in an illegal rental house in Noyack earlier this month likely started in an outdoor kitchen. A Southampton town official said the house didn't have a rental permit and never received a safety inspection. Newsday's Steve Langford reports.  Credit: Noyack fire that killed two sisters likely caused by outdoor kitchen

This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Vera Chinese, Scott Eidler and Deborah S. Morris. It was written by Chayes and Morris.

An outdoor kitchen at an illegal Noyack rental with "questionable" smoke detectors was the likely ignition point for a house fire earlier this month that killed two sisters vacationing from Maryland, according to preliminary findings of a Southampton Town investigation.

The sisters, Jillian and Lindsay Wiener, 21 and 19, died as a result of the fire, which swept through the rental on Springs Lane early Aug. 3. The two were part of a family of five from Potomac, Maryland, who had rented the home for their vacation.
“Our investigation thus far is indicating the likelihood the area where the fire began was on the outside of the house in the vicinity of an outdoor kitchen," Ryan Murphy, the town's public safety and emergency management administrator, told Newsday on Wednesday.

Murphy said the house had been  illegally rented out and lacked a permit, and thus never had a safety inspection, as required by the town code, that would have checked for smoke detectors.

“One of the things we were paying particular attention to was some additional analysis of the smoke detectors and the fire alarm systems and the electrical components associated with those,” he said. “I would describe the functionality of the smoke detectors at this point as questionable.”

The landlords didn't respond to a message Thursday seeking comment.

On Tuesday, officials from the fire marshal's office and town police with a warrant searched the property as part of the ongoing investigation, Murphy said.

“Obviously because there was no safety inspection with us related to a rental permit because they never got one or apply for one,” he said. “So I can’t speak to the functionality of those detectors” before the fire.

First-time offenders who operate a rental without a permit face fines between $150 and $1,500, up to 15 days in jail, or both, according to the town code. 

Applying for a two-year Southampton Town rental permit requires completing an application available on the town website and submitting a $300 fee, according to Murphy. The forms ask applicants to provide the number of smoke detectors and a layout of the home, attest that they will handle trash pickup, and give the name of the property manager, among other information.

Property owners must also either submit to a safety inspection from town code enforcement or provide their own certified inspection from a professional architect or engineer. To pass inspection, the home must meet code requirements for pool safety gates and must have the proper number of certain electrical outlets, carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors, among other criteria.

Murphy said his staff of about eight enforces the rental law both by acting on complaints and by taking proactive measures, like searching for properties with several vehicles parked outside and scrolling through home rental sites. Staff will typically issue a violation, which carries no penalties if the problem is fixed, before handing out a summons, he said.

The town issued 950 code violations and 162 summonses in 2021, although Murphy could not say how many of those offenses involved rental properties versus other infractions.

Long Island has no central rental registry. In order to find out whether a property is a legal rental — thus subject to code inspections, such as for mandated smoke alarms — the first step is to identify which municipality regulates the rental. In some places it’s the town; in others, it’s another government entity, such as a village or city, said James Clark of Babylon Village, a real estate lawyer who represents landlords and tenants and is also special counsel to Babylon Town on leasing issues.

Clark recommends calling first to avoid an unnecessary trip to a town and village hall; typically, a code enforcement office handles permitting.

Telltale signs that suggest an illegal rental: a rental of a room without dedicated cooking facilities, a multiunit house with multiple rentals, and all units in a multiunit house being on a single electric meter.

An outdoor kitchen at an illegal Noyack rental with "questionable" smoke detectors was the likely ignition point for a house fire earlier this month that killed two sisters vacationing from Maryland, according to preliminary findings of a Southampton Town investigation.

The sisters, Jillian and Lindsay Wiener, 21 and 19, died as a result of the fire, which swept through the rental on Springs Lane early Aug. 3. The two were part of a family of five from Potomac, Maryland, who had rented the home for their vacation.
“Our investigation thus far is indicating the likelihood the area where the fire began was on the outside of the house in the vicinity of an outdoor kitchen," Ryan Murphy, the town's public safety and emergency management administrator, told Newsday on Wednesday.

Murphy said the house had been  illegally rented out and lacked a permit, and thus never had a safety inspection, as required by the town code, that would have checked for smoke detectors.

“One of the things we were paying particular attention to was some additional analysis of the smoke detectors and the fire alarm systems and the electrical components associated with those,” he said. “I would describe the functionality of the smoke detectors at this point as questionable.”

The landlords didn't respond to a message Thursday seeking comment.

On Tuesday, officials from the fire marshal's office and town police with a warrant searched the property as part of the ongoing investigation, Murphy said.

“Obviously because there was no safety inspection with us related to a rental permit because they never got one or apply for one,” he said. “So I can’t speak to the functionality of those detectors” before the fire.

First-time offenders who operate a rental without a permit face fines between $150 and $1,500, up to 15 days in jail, or both, according to the town code. 

Applying for a two-year Southampton Town rental permit requires completing an application available on the town website and submitting a $300 fee, according to Murphy. The forms ask applicants to provide the number of smoke detectors and a layout of the home, attest that they will handle trash pickup, and give the name of the property manager, among other information.

Property owners must also either submit to a safety inspection from town code enforcement or provide their own certified inspection from a professional architect or engineer. To pass inspection, the home must meet code requirements for pool safety gates and must have the proper number of certain electrical outlets, carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors, among other criteria.

Murphy said his staff of about eight enforces the rental law both by acting on complaints and by taking proactive measures, like searching for properties with several vehicles parked outside and scrolling through home rental sites. Staff will typically issue a violation, which carries no penalties if the problem is fixed, before handing out a summons, he said.

The town issued 950 code violations and 162 summonses in 2021, although Murphy could not say how many of those offenses involved rental properties versus other infractions.

Long Island has no central rental registry. In order to find out whether a property is a legal rental — thus subject to code inspections, such as for mandated smoke alarms — the first step is to identify which municipality regulates the rental. In some places it’s the town; in others, it’s another government entity, such as a village or city, said James Clark of Babylon Village, a real estate lawyer who represents landlords and tenants and is also special counsel to Babylon Town on leasing issues.

Clark recommends calling first to avoid an unnecessary trip to a town and village hall; typically, a code enforcement office handles permitting.

Telltale signs that suggest an illegal rental: a rental of a room without dedicated cooking facilities, a multiunit house with multiple rentals, and all units in a multiunit house being on a single electric meter.

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