Citizen activists from Springs, frustrated by continuing problems from illegally overcrowded housing in that hamlet, called on the East Hampton Town Board last week to hold a summit on the issue, allowing the public to directly question the head of the town’s public safety and code enforcement divisions. They asked the board to help code enforcers step up their efforts by strengthening town codes, making search warrants more readily available so that complaints are not so often dismissed due to lack of evidence, and said the town should issue weekly reports to the media and public about cases of potential violations, and their resolution in court.
Members of the Concerned Citizens of Springs, a group formed around the issue of housing violations and their impacts, including rising school taxes and an overcrowded Springs School, issued a written call for action last week, and spoke at a town board meeting last Thursday.
David Buda, a Springs resident and founder of the group, said that despite the efforts being made by the Ordinance Enforcement Department, violations continue at many properties where owners or tenants refuse a request for a voluntary inspection, impeding the ability to make a case that will stand up in court.
When they are refused entry into a house, code enforcement officers “are simply closing out complaints” they are looking into, he claimed.
Although constitutional civil rights issues must be considered before a search warrant is executed, Mr. Buda said that the town code could provide a legal basis for one if certain conditions indicating violations are found, such as multiple cars outside a residence, or more than one utility meter.
Even after being fined, some property owners continue to violate the code, he said, showing pictures of several properties that he said had ongoing problems.
“These are not victimless crimes,” Carol Buda told the board. When single-family residences are used as multiple-family dwellings, she said, the entire community is affected, from the children attending a crowded school to the taxpayers paying for it, and the residents whose property values are going down. “Law-abiding people also have rights,” she said. Ms. Buda asked the town board to direct police officers to report potential housing violations to the Code Enforcement Department.
Mr. Buda noted that he and other representatives of the group have been pressing the town board for solutions for over a year. The board, he said, has had “summit” meetings on deer management, and several on business. He asked that officials “focus the same degree of attention on housing code enforcement.”
“Imagine yourselves living next to a house with 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 cars,” he said, “and debris strewn about the property — neglected and blighted. And imagine that your taxes are going up every year, significantly, while your property value is going down,” said Fred Weinberg.
“I have to ask you, do you think your core competencies will allow you to do something about the issue? Do you?” he asked, referring to a phrase often used by Supervisor Bill Wilkinson in assessing what the town should and shouldn’t do.
Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said that she supported the idea of holding a housing summit. But, she said, “I’d like to see things stay on a positive note.”
After appealing a denial of a request to receive code enforcement data, The Star learned earlier this month that the town will provide regular reports.
Patrick Gunn, the head of the town’s Public Safety Division, which includes the Ordinance Enforcement Department, said Tuesday that housing code violations get top attention in the winter months, January to April, when there are fewer other complaints competing for officers’ attention.
One part-time and four full-time officers work scattered shifts, covering the hours between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. this time of year, he said, although hours are adjusted, if necessary, to develop information about a specific case. In the summertime, officers work overnight.
Mr. Gunn said that, 18 months after his appointment, the department is “operationally sound” and the officers are “all working hard.” Data about code violation cases are compiled in quarterly reports, he said, that are publicly available.