Town inventories accessory apartments for compliance
Building inspector Tom Risom has spent the summer investigating the Section 513 accessory apartment situation on Block Island. These apartments are intended to provide year-round rental housing and seasonal rental housing for island workers. Under the current Zoning Ordinance, only one dwelling unit is allowed per property. 513s allow homeowners to build another dwelling unit on their property. Besides providing rental income for the homeowner, there is also a tax break if the 513 unit is restricted by deed for affordable housing.
Currently, the housing board is responsible for administering the affordable housing component of 513 accessory apartments and is charged with determining eligibility, long-term monitoring, and certification of the tax abatement.
The housing board expressed to Risom its desire to be removed from a regulatory role, with Member Millie McGinnes agreeing to write a letter to the Planning Board to that effect, suggesting that the ordinance be revised with feedback and input from the Housing Board. Risom agreed, telling the board on August 10: “(Land Use Officer) Jenn Brady and I don’t think that is appropriate,” for the housing board to regulate 513s.
It is a bit of a moot point, however, as no one has asked for the tax abatement. Risom told the board most people did not realize there was a tax incentive for making the apartment affordable, and the few who knew about the tax abatement thought it was automatic and did not realize they had to apply for it separately.
Risom reported that of the 61 apartments previously registered as 513s, 13 had abandoned their use as an accessory apartment. This requires that the kitchen fixtures and appliances be completely removed, including plumbing and wiring. When asked how many of these 13 had actually done that, Risom replied, “Some.”
Of the 48 remaining, Risom said he had received paperwork and done inspections on the majority, reporting only 11 had not responded to his inquiries at all.
Every three years, the owners of 513s are required to provide a copy of the lease and an affidavit that they understand the regulations in order to get their certificate of occupancy. Risom reported that 12 of the 48 currently do not have certificates of occupancy on file.
“Only one person bald-faced lied to me; they said they did not live there, and they clearly did,” Risom told the board. “I’m sure you are aware that people game all these systems.”
One of the games Risom is trying to prevent owners from playing is using the 513 to live in themselves while they rent out the main house for weekly summer rentals. Typically, on Block Island there is only one house allowed per property, although many properties predate the zoning regulations and are grand-fathered in. The stated purpose of these 513 accessory apartments, however is to provide year-round housing or employee housing, not to enable rentals to tourists.
Risom said that the deadline for the owners of the remaining 11 apartments to respond is August 16. After that time, he will start showing up for inspections. “The ordinance says we can inspect with a 48-hour notice,” Risom told the board.
Risom reported he will be finished going through the rest of the 513s in a couple of weeks, using 48-hour notices to access and inspect the apartments he has not heard back from.