By Mara Certic
Despite an effort to simplify the law and procedures that go along with it, a proposed rental registry in East Hampton Town continues to draw criticism from residents who worry it will make seasonal renting cost-prohibitive and won’t do enough to address the real problem of illegal rentals.
Following yet another season of illegal sharehouses popping up throughout the town, the town board has decided to take another look at a proposed law that would require homeowners who rent their homes to fill out a safety checklist, pay a fee and register their property with the town Building Department.
Assistant Town Attorney Michael Sendlenski explained that the majority of the towns in Suffolk County have adopted some sort of rental registry, but that what is being proposed in East Hampton is a much shorter process he has attempted to streamline. The town is also looking toward an online renewal process that would further expedite and facilitate the process, Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez said.
To register a rental property, a homeowner will have to fill out a two-page safety checklist that they can either do themselves, or have a licensed architect, engineer or home inspector fill out and then pay a fee. Mr. Sendlenski explained that all of the items on the checklist—which include proper pool fencing as mandated by New York State Law, and the correct installation of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors—are not new laws, but are all currently part of the town code.
Nevertheless, several residents spoke up during a work session in Montauk on Tuesday, October 13, about potential pitfalls of the law.
Tom Steele illustrated his concerns with the law using a fictitious character named Bob, who does everything by the book, but ends up spending tens of thousands of dollars bringing his house up to code, on fines and on legal fees—leaving him without enough money to send either of his kids to college.
“What the law does do is create financial risk for anyone who rents their home. It collects information about you that will be used to prosecute you,” he said.
Both he and other residents expressed concern that a landlord doing everything right could end up being hit with hefty fines for misbehaving tenants, but Mr. Sendlenski explained the law is written in a way that would allow the town to hold tenants responsible, if the landlord is indeed in the right.
Montauk resident Bill Akin, on the other hand, who also rents out his house, applauded the board for the progress made and encouraged it to adopt some sort of rental registry.
“There hasn’t been a new motel built in Montauk for 10 or 15 years,” Mr. Akin said. “And there’s no question that the population here has exploded since then.” Part of that, he said, is because of the town’s inability to enforce its current rental laws.
Members of the town board and Mr. Sendlenski acknowledged that renting property has been one of the economic engines for the town for decades, and added that they understood the importance of it for many residents. The law also does not require anyone renting their home to immediate family to register the property, nor will it oblige landlords renting out just a room or two in the house they live in to get a rental permit, either.
Each registered property would be given a special number, which would have to be included in all rental advertisements, as a way to easily find those not complying with the law. Those who fail to include the number in any ad for a rental property would face a minimum fine of $150, which could rise to a maximum of $1,500.
The town board will hold a public hearing on the proposed rental registry when it meets on November 19. That meeting will be moved to the American Legion Hall Amagansett to accommodate the expected large crowd. Apart from a couple of resolutions, that meeting will be dedicated entirely to the topic of the registry in order to seek ample comment from the public.