After about two years of deliberation on various forms of a rental registry, the East Hampton Town Board quietly and unanimously voted to enact a rental registry at their Dec. 15 work session.
Under the new law, landlords will be required to register their rental properties with the town before the summer season of 2016 and pay a $100 rental registry permit, which is valid for two years and can be updated with information about new tenants throughout that two-year period.
Property owners will be required to include their rental registry number in advertisements of their property for rent. The town is planning to make the rental registry application and payment available online on the town’s website.
Homeowners will also need to include a notarized Rental Property Inspection checklist on a form provided by the building department, which must be a sworn document signed by the homeowner or a licensed engineer, architect or home inspector.
Properties rented to the immediate family of the homeowner are exempt from the registry.
Penalties for violations of the rental registry requirements range from $150 to $1,500 for not registering a rental property to fines of from $3,000 to $30,000 for other violations of the code, including overcrowding. The full text of the law is online here.
Councilman Fred Overton, who sponsored the legislation, said he began discussing the idea of a rental registry with code enforcement officials during his first campaign for town board two years ago, as a way to combat the overcrowding and dangerous situation that exists in both some year-round housing and in short-term rentals in East Hampton.
A divided crowd packed the Amagansett American Legion Hall for a public hearing on the rental registry just before Thanksgiving.
“We agonized over this for two years,” said Mr. Overton. “There were people with reasonable suggestions, and people I respect who had particular reasons why they were against the registry…. It seems to me that there is some misinformation that feeds on itself. Some of opposition points are accurate, but a lot in the public hearing are inaccurate and it created some hysteria and some fear, unnecessarily. I feel we made it as simple as possible.”
But several members of the public showed up to tell the board they disagreed with the law, and were disappointed that it would be passed at a work session with very little advance notice.
This fall’s Republican town supervisor candidate, Tom Knobel, had made the registry a focal point of his campaign, and he said in the public session at the Dec. 15 work session that he was disappointed that the town board had chosen to pass the law, with little notice, at a work session instead of a regular meeting.
“Many people are very disappointed that it is to be passed with little notice,” he said, adding that, with the law in effect, “there will have to be more enforcers, snitches and sneaks in the Town of East Hampton.”
“It requires neighbor to turn against neighbor and report what’s being done,” he said. “The law will not be enforced. Some people will be paying a price, some will be jumping though hoops, and many will not.”
Reg Cornelia said he thought the town’s passage of the law wasn’t a nice Christmas present.
“It’s another bureaucracy that’s going to cost a lot and is bound to produce a lot of litigation, which we don’t need,” he said. “Whatever problems you’re trying to resolve, I don’t think this is going to do it.”
Greg Mansley said he’d found out about the vote at 11 p.m. the night before.
“I’m lucky enough to be able to just not go to work. A lot of people don’t have this option,” he said. “There’s a lot of holes here and I thought after the last meeting they would be addressed. The concept of ‘pass and tweak’ doesn’t work, and I’m glad Boeing Aircraft doesn’t do that.”
Kim Hubby, who own the Mrs. Condie Lamb real estate agency in East Hampton, said she’d found out about the vote the night before and she was lucky to be able to reschedule a meeting so she could attend the work session.
“I don’t believe that this is democracy in action,” she said, adding that she hoped the town board would either hold a public referendum or examine the law more thoroughly before adopting it.
“We’ve had a code that has worked up until this point,” she said. “money should be spent on code enforcement.”
Orley Freedman just paid off her house in Springs, and she said she considers the rental permit fee an unnecessary tax.
“Living in Springs, our taxes are already extremely high. This is an exorbitant fee, even if it is for two years, she said. “And then I have to sign a notarized statement that could possibly bring officers into my house to check stuff…. I feel like I have to jump through hoops as a homeowner now. We have landlord-tenant court to handle matters of that nature.”
“Putting this item on today’s agenda less than 24 hours prior to the vote is not in the best interest of the community,” said Tom Steele. “If you are proud of this law or are in favor of public dialogue, reschedule this vote.”
Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc said he believed about 26 people spoke against the registry at the November hearing and 22 people spoke in favor of it.
“I’m comfortable with the idea that this will aid code enforcement,” he said. “It’s very important to me, from day one, that the fees be reasonable. At $100 for a two-year period, that’s a reasonable amount to assess for administrative cost.”
Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said the law as adopted Tuesday was much simpler than earlier suggested laws.
“To keep hearing the same misinformation over and over again makes me think that people really need to educate themselves on this,” she said. “It’s time to move this forward.”
Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell agreed.
“The argument that somehow this is a last-minute decision by the board based on little public input conflicts with what actually happened here,” he said. “We had at least two public information meetings a year ago, a public hearing with great turnout of several hundred people. It’s been on the agenda and discussed at public meetings and we’ve received petitions from both sides with hundreds and hundreds of signatures.”
“The truth is there’s room for disagreement here,” he added. “There’s not a unanimous consent of the community on whether this should be done and if it will be effective…. A rental registry is not a silver bullet, but can be an effective tool in examining the problem.”
“It’s very clear that there’s a great deal of high turnover weekly rentals going on in our town,” he added. “The larger question is what do we want our residential neighborhoods to be? Do we want to commercialize these neighborhoods? There’s got to be some limit to the commercialization of our residential areas.”