A recent case involving false alarm fees was heard and decided in Suffolk County, New York.

The plaintiff, Suffolk County, sought to recover $800 from the defendants for alleged violations of the county code involving “false alarm fee assessments.”  The statute allows the county to assess fees for violation of its provisions and establishes an administrative mechanism that allows the operators of alarm systems to request that the police commissioner reconsider, via correspondence only, any fine within 30 days of mail receipt of said fee demand.  

The statute provides that an alarm owner shall be given written notice by the police department of any fees chargeable by the department for false alarms. An alarm owner shall pay all demanded fees within 30 calendar days of the date of the notice unless an alarm owner requests an appeal. Failure of an alarm owner to pay a false alarm fee when due shall result in a late fee in the amount of $25 and $50 for amounts due and owing past 60 days. 

The county code defines a false alarm as an alarm signal activated by causes or events other than the commission or attempted commission of an unlawful act or emergency which the alarm system is designed to detect. An alarm signal activated by violent or unusual conditions of nature or other extraordinary circumstances not subject to the control of the alarm owner shall not constitute a false alarm.  

Any person or entity that receives notice of false alarm fees or any other fines or fees due under this article may appeal such fines or fees by filing a notice of appeal in such form as provided by the department, with the commissioner, within 30 days of receipt of the notice.  

In this case, the county admitted into evidence an “Outstanding Invoice Summary” and a demand for payment of $800.00, referencing three false alarms, but did not reference the individual, only the company. The individual defendant raised the following defenses: 1. that the defendant is not individually liable, as the business which maintains the false alarm system is a formal corporation; 2. the subject alarms were generated by real, not false alarms; 3. the defendants did not “receive” the predicate fee assessments; and 4. the county has not proven the defendant received a fee assessment.

The court, in reviewing the case, pointed out that the county must prove that false alarm activations were reported to the county police department; that the defendant was assessed fees under Code Sec. 290-9 and was given and received mail notice from the police department of said assessments; that the county provided the administrative request form; and that the defendant did not timely request an administrative review by the police commissioner.  

The defendant testified that he never received the actual fee assessment and the documents he did receive did not advise of the appeal process. The court pointed out that the statute made it clear that defendant’s time to request administrative review runs for 30 days after the “receipt” of the fee assessment. As such, the action was premature as the county did not prove the “actual date” the defendant received the assessment. 

Therefore the county’s complaint was dismissed.



Q:  Our company installs and services burglar and fire alarm systems. We have just learned California has passed a new law where we can no longer use subcontractors to handle the installation and service. We can only use employees of the company to provide these services on our behalf. Is this correct? We do not do enough business in California to justify maintaining employees on our payroll. 

A: You are correct, California has just passed Assembly Bill 5, which sets out three criterion referred to as the ABC Test to determine if the individual is a subcontractor or an employee. The worker is considered an employee and not an independent contractor unless the hiring entity satisfies the 3 conditions:

  1. The worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact;
  2. The worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entities’ business; and
  3. The worker is customarily engaged in an independent established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as that in the work performed.

There are a few exceptions, one of which states that the contractor is performing work pursuant to a subcontract in the construction industry. If you can establish that you are working in the construction industry, it may be a valid exception. This may be sustainable for your fire installations, but would be difficult to establish in many of the burglar alarm installations. 

There have already been a number of challenges to AB5, but no determinations as of yet. So beware as the penalties can be severe.