It’s Not All Party Houses and Reality TV

Town says code violations have calmed down

Summer is the season. For what, you may ask, and the answer varies widely in East Hampton Town, depending on if you are a vacationer here, a second-home owner, or a year-round resident.

For East Hampton Town’s Ordinance Enforcement Department, which watches to ensure that people are following the town’s zoning and other codes, ’tis the season for vigilance, particularly in checking for group share houses or repeated short-term rentals, which are prohibited. 

It is also the season for capitalizing on the “Hamptons” cachet. An example is the new Bravo TV reality show called “Summer House.” Though East Hampton Town officials denied permits for the show to film in public places, the show has gone on, with filming at different private locations and a house on Napeague where the cast members live.

Betsy Bambrick, the head of the Ordinance Enforcement Department, said the house is properly registered with the town as a rental. But, she said, “we’re keeping an eye on it; we’re going by periodically to see if any town codes are being violated.”

East Hampton, it turns out, was the location for another summer event that was advertised and widely covered in the media, an orgy organized by an elite sex club called Killing Kittens that was founded by a supposed acquaintance of Prince William’s wife, Kate Middleton. The location of the party last month — something of a dud according to a Daily Beast writer who attended — was reported to be a Hand’s Creek Road residence that is for sale for $6.5 million.

It did not come to the attention of code enforcement, Ms. Bambrick said last week, though the property owners could potentially have been cited for commercial use of a residence had officers actually observed the violation. Orgy registrants reportedly paid $250 each, or $400 a couple to attend.

There are plenty of other potential housing code violations for enforcement officers to check on. A search for rental properties in East Hampton on the AirBNB website turns up many available for leases of different durations.

Under the law, property owners may rent for periods of less than two weeks twice in a six-month period; the rental of rooms in a house occupied by its owner is not limited. Tenancy of a rental house by more than four unrelated people is prohibited.

East Hampton’s recently enacted rental registry law requires those renting out residences to register with the town, verifying that properties meet safety codes, etc., and to use the assigned registry number in rental ads.

While the AirBNB site posts a heads-up to property owners that they must comply with local rental laws, there is no place in its online information form specifically for rental registry numbers.

But, said Ms. Bambrick, many of the listings investigated by the department are properly registered. Citing owners who have complied with the law and registered for failure to include the registry number in their online listings is less of a priority, she said, than going after other violators. “If we see the listing, and they don’t have [a rental registry number], then that’s a different story,” Ms. Bambrick said.

Officers also check for registry numbers on signs posted at rental properties. Many times, Ms. Bambrick said, it takes a close look to find the registry number handwritten somewhere on the sign with a permanent marker.

Ms. Bambrick said the registry law has “created a heightened awareness for the property owners that are renting” regarding applicable state and local laws. “Now they have to give it a little more thought,” she said.

Fewer complaints are coming in this summer about properties having excessive turnover.

“All across the board this summer, things seem to be a little calmed down out there,” Ms. Bambrick said.

Nonetheless, a report on the efforts of her department during the first six months of 2016 shows a significant increase in complaints, investigations, and court cases over the same period last year. Between January and the end of June this year, 1,407 cases were opened by the department, and 1,118 of them resolved. In the first half of 2015, 1,076 cases were opened, with 818 of them closed.

By far, the largest number of the cases this year — 382 of them — involved zoning code violations. There were 140 cases involving environmental transgressions, 110 centered on alleged violations of the housing code, 108 having to do with required contractor licenses, and 90 that centered on safety code issues.

Ordinance officers inspect each vehicle for which a taxicab license has been issued before affixing the licensing sticker to the car; they had eyeballed and validated 297 taxis as of the end of June.

After putting property owners on notice about town code violations, ordinance officers were able to achieve voluntary compliance in 587 cases of alleged code violation, with changes made by property owners to adhere to the code.

Court charges were filed in 195 cases. Fifty-eight cases were referred for input to other town departments with jurisdiction, and the allegations in 264 cases were determined to be unfounded.

  Multiple charges are often filed in the cases that the Ordinance Enforcement Department sends to town justice court — 740 charges were filed in the 195 cases that went to court in the first half of this year. During the same six-month period in 2015, there were 132 cases sent to the court, with a total of 372 charges filed.

During the first half of this year, 534 complaints or investigations originated in house at the department, with an additional 318 generated from observations officers made on patrol, and 176 more resulting from online review of rental websites and the like. One hundred twelve cases were referred by other departments; 185 complaints came in by phone; 77 from people who came in to the town office, and five came in by email.

Of the cases opened, most had to do with properties in East Hampton— 587, up from 426 during the first half of 2015.

Cases stemming from situations in Montauk numbered 328, close to 100 more than were opened during the same six months of 2015. There were 299 in Springs, 148 in Amagansett, and 45 in Wainscott in the first half of the year.

Ms. Bambrick’s report can be found at ehamptonny.gov, under the Ordinance Enforcement Department page.