Clarendon oversteps bounds with new law on small sheds

Posted 4 May 2016 at 12:00 am


I recently read of Clarendon’s Local Law #1-2016 requiring permits for structures as small as 64 square feet. It’s disheartening to see small, rural town governments failing to serve their constituents by promulgating frivolous, expensive laws that don’t serve the public they were elected to represent.

The Clarendon Board is Republican. I always thought Republicans were opposed to more laws, more fees and more regulation. Apparently I was wrong.

It’s germane to this letter to mention that I am a NYS Code Official. I work with local and State laws every day. NY State’s position on the matter is that structures 144 square feet or less do not require a permit. That said, Clarendon has the legal right to make a more restrictive requirement but to what end?

Ostensibly, as reported, it’s so the assessor can keep track of sheds and get them on the tax roll.

Let’s do the math: An applicant pays $40 for a shed permit. The building inspector has to review the application and plans, issue the permit, then file the permit. The Town Clerk has to accept the fees and make record of the receipt.

Then, the inspector has to visit the site for framing and final inspections. Following the inspections, the inspector has to return to the office, produce a certificate of compliance and mail that certificate to the applicant. The inspector also has to file a copy of the original of the C of C in the property record with the permit. I’m positive $40 doesn’t begin to cover the expenses associated with generating and administering a shed permit.

When a Town creates a local law, there are publication expenses, code book update expenses, attorney’s fees and filing fees. While costs vary, it’s not at all unusual for these costs to range into the thousands of dollars. Let me remind you we’re talking about a law that requires a permit for a shed that’s not much bigger than your sectional sofa. It’s not something important that will save lives.

The Town lost money issuing the permit and creating the law. Now, the assessor finally gets to put the shed on the tax roll. Let’s say it’s an awesome 8×8 shed and it gets a $200 assessment. Clarendon’s tax rate is about $4 a thousand. That $200 assessment generates roughly 80 cents a year in revenue for Clarendon and around $8 a year in total tax revenue for the county, town and school combined. It will probably cost more to inventory the shed and track the shed than the shed will ever generate through taxation.

But wait. The Real Property Tax Law§1573 requires a physical inventory of real property at least once every 6 years. That means the assessor or an agent of the Town drives around and looks at every property and then inventories every property. Assume the miscreant shed builder maximized his nefarious plans by building his non-permitted shed the day after the inventory, the Town would be out less than 5 bucks in lost tax revenue. What I’m saying is, no shed goes untaxed for more than five years.

In the past, I’ve worked for municipalities who created knee-jerk laws like Clarendon’s in reaction to a suggestion or a complaint. Politicians giddy with their perceived power, completely out of touch with what’s good for their communities reacting to an imagined problem. Like Clarendon, they created solutions to problems that didn’t exist and laid the impossible task of enforcing the useless law on the already too busy code official.

The NY State residential code is very clear in its purpose and scope – on the first page it states: “This code is intended to provide minimum requirements to safeguard public safety, health and general welfare” The code was designed to promote safety, not as a tool to generate revenue.

Playhouses too fall under Clarendon’s draconian new law but they are specifically excluded from the NY Residential Code. What standard will Clarendon enforce when an applicant comes in with a permit request for a playhouse? The only defensible standard would be the same as residential construction – that’s ludicrous, right? Go ahead Clarendon, make up your own standard for playhouses. Pass a law called the Clarendon Playhouse Standard. Let me know how you fare in the personal injury lawsuits when kids get hurt on a Clarendon Playhouse. What? You’ll let your code official decide the standard? That provides more pockets to sue.

Clarendon is a rural community. People choose to live in Clarendon because it is a rural community. Every yard in Clarendon has room for a 12×12 shed and nobody should have to beg permission to own one. No parent should have to ask permission or buy a permit to build a playhouse for his/her children.

I’ll stop soon, but Clarendon, I’ll be happy to forward a copy of your new law to NY Ag and Markets. They’ll have blast with the part that says you may require a site plan from farmers for their Ag buildings.

Chad Fabry