Recently and almost in passing, an East Hampton Town Board member observed that it might be necessary to seek outside help for the Ordinance Enforcement Department. At the moment, the town lists eight field employees and one clerk in the department directory, but three work only part time. This small group is supposed to provide seven-day-a-week coverage, taking on everything and anything not otherwise in the purview of town police. It is a mind-bogglingly big job, particularly in the summer, when the population at least triples and businesses racing a short season to make ends meet often bend if not flout the law. This charitable explanation about why the department does not do more may not hold up to scrutiny in the off-season, however. Then, when troubles are fewer, blatant and ongoing code violations are inexplicably ignored.
Betsy Bambrick, the head of ordinance enforcement from 2010 through 2017, who is now seeking a seat on the East Hampton Town Board, might be pressed for an explanation during her campaign. This would be of interest as the department’s only reports indicate a long pattern of pursuing certain aspects of the town code, such as the rules on artist studios and contractor licenses, and all but ignoring others, such as those about signs and exterior lighting — never mind that these laws were passed by the town boards to which the department answers.
Included among the assignments of the Ordinance Enforcement Department is keeping tabs on residential rental properties, for which a town registry certificate is required. In some places, such as Amagansett and Montauk, excessive numbers of short-term week or weekend guests have been changing their neighborhoods and adding a frenetic factor to traffic congestion. Basic investigation of these matters might well be handled by the private sector.
Among the issues an outside firm might address are short-term rental websites such as Airbnb to be sure town registry numbers are posted, as required. It could also count online property reviews, which in many, many examples are indications of illegally high turnover. This is something the eight town enforcement officers hardly have time for. It could help tamp down a growing challenge. One popular Montauk cottage on Fort Pond, for example, has had three different rental occupants so far in August and six in July. The limit for that period was two. The cottage first was on the rental market in 2013, according to Airbnb. Since then it has racked up more than 300 reviews. (If we are able to look this up, ordinance enforcement is, too. It would not be difficult.)
Giving the department the benefit of the doubt, that its staff follows the town’s laws and seeks compliance whenever possible, bolstering it with outside help could provide better results.