It happens every weekend, all summer, and into the fall..Visitors rent a home out East for a vacation, for a break from their routine and to enjoy the pleasures of our coastline and the bounty of our farms.
They likely don't think about whether the home they're renting has been inspected, has required rental permits or has working smoke detectors.
But after the tragic deaths of Maryland sisters Jillian and Lindsay Wiener in a house fire in Noyack earlier this month, town officials, landlords, and even the companies responsible for listing such properties, need to consider how they can better inform renters that the Island's vacation homes are safe.
Jillian, 21, and Lindsay, 19, were part of a family of five who had rented the Noyack home as a getaway. Their parents and brother were able to escape, but the sisters, found in a second-floor bedroom, could not be saved.
The house was an illegal rental and lacked the appropriate permit and safety inspection. Whether the house's smoke detectors were functional remains "questionable," according to authorities. The fire apparently started in an outdoor kitchen, located in an area below the bedroom the young women were using. It's unclear whether there were any problems with the kitchen, or whether it was too close to the house.
The horrific incident should serve as a reminder that the safety of a rental house should be on a vacationer's checklist. But it's also not simple for a potential renter to check on permits or inspections.There is no universal database on Long Island or in New York State; each town or village keeps its own records. And Airbnb and other listing companies put the onus on the landlords to make sure they comply with local regulations, but don't offer any inspection or permit information to renters. Listings can include whether a property has smoke and carbon monoxide detectors — but no one is double checking that they work.
Towns and villages that require inspections and permits should create searchable databases that can showcase the rental properties that have up-to-date permits and inspections, so an interested renter can check.
Users of online sites offering vacation rental listings should demand that they require landlords to sign off that a listed rental has working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and appropriate permits and inspections. The sites could even require landlords to upload the permit documents so the renter can see them with a few clicks.
It won't protect renters from all bad actors, but it could provide an extra check on a system that now has very few.
Rental companies and landlords often advocate for fewer regulations and requirements, fewer permits and inspections and less red tape. But these are the instances when such regulations are most justified. The unimaginable devastation the Wiener family has had to go through reminds us of why such regulations are in place. It's up to everyone to find solutions so no one experiences such tragedy again.
MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.