When Michelle Ryan purchased an inflatable pool for the backyard of her rented home on Duanesburg Avenue this summer, she never envisioned having to first apply for a building permit from the town.
She also didn’t foresee needing to enclose the 31⁄2-foot deep pool she bought from Kmart for $249 in a fence with a self-closing gate. Or that her outdoor electrical outlets would need a pricey upgrade and that she’d have to buy an alarm system to float on top of the shallow pool.
But then came the violation notices from Rotterdam’s code enforcer. In July, Ryan received written notification that she lacked a permit for a pool, the required barrier around it and an alarm system to ward off interlopers — all violations that could land her stiff penalties if she didn’t take corrective action.
Ryan was aghast, especially since she inflated a similar style pool by her home the previous two summers without issue. The inexpensive pool she bought to use through the summer months has now cost her more than $850 in home improvements alone.
“Nobody in their right mind could have envisioned we needed a building permit,” said the irate resident. “This isn’t like a regular pool. It comes down, and with the way the weather has been lately, it may come down soon.”
And she’s not alone. Rotterdam code enforcers handed out similar notifications to more than two dozen homes between mid-July and the first week of August, according to Town Board member Robert Godlewski, who was shocked to learn the town was classifying the inflatable pools as though they were permenant.
“Why do you need to get a building permit to put a pool up for two or three months out of the year?” he asked.
Supervisor Harry Buffardi said the compliance notifications shouldn’t come as a surprise to residents with inflatable pools. He said temporary pools such as the one used by Ryan are regulated under state law just like in- or above-ground pools since they can cause the same issues.
“If a child drowns in an inflatable pool and we’re asked why we didn’t enforce the existing laws, we’d be hard pressed to answer that question,” he said. “These are not kiddie pools. Some of these are 20 feet in diameter and three feet deep.
Town Attorney Kate McGuirl said the town is following the state Residential Code governing swimming pools, since Rotterdam has few pool regulations of its own. Absent more restrictive local laws, she said town code enforcers are now following the guidelines presented by state law, which was adopted in 2010 and covers any basin deeper than two feet.
“While I certainly appreciate the resident’s perspective that the use of the swimming pool may be temporary and the cost to comply with the state code can be hefty, when balanced with the town’s responsibility to enforce the state code to prevent situations were a child may be harmed or could drown by spending an additional $500, the choice is clear,” she said.
Rotterdam’s code stresses that all pools must be in compliance with state code. The town’s swimming pool permit costs $50 for above-ground pools and $100 for in-ground pools. Applicants must provide a site plan drawing showing boundaries and setbacks from property lines and identify features such as septic tanks. Pools also must have an electrical inspection before a permit is issued, according to the code.
Buffardi and McGuirl stressed that the notices given to residents were mere warnings. No citations have been issued so far.
McGuirl partially faulted retailers for misleading consumers with the inexpensive pools. Though most manuals encourage compliance, she said few stores that sell the inflatable pools mention the additional costs customers will have to incur to be up to code.
“Retailers offer deep discounts on swimming pools without informing consumers of added costs to safely use the swimming pools in the state of New York,” she said.
The town’s enforcement of the code, however, doesn’t sit well with residents like Ryan. Though she has complied with the demands of code enforcement, Ryan is still questioning why the town has suddenly started cracking down.
“The sense we get is that the town is broke and they’re looking to raise revenue,” she said.
Buffardi said the pool enforcement is just one of many codes the town is now working to address. He said town codes have been largely ignored for years, which is why some are shocked when the code enforcer does hand out a notice.
“The lack of enforcement has been rather obvious by people’s lack of compliance,” he said.