A number of fed-up Springs residents are demanding that the Town of East Hampton do more to eliminate overcrowded and illegal houses. Their request for increased enforcement of laws already on the books is reasonable.
From the late 1990s to the present, Springs has become something of a dumping ground for the town’s low-end multiple housing. The hamlet is not alone in this distinction; you can point to houses from Montauk to Wainscott that are home to more occupants than the four unrelated adults the law allows. The concentration in Springs of single-family houses used as de facto apartment buildings is disproportionate, and unfair.
Residents complain that the town looks the other way as their neighborhoods are degraded. They are angry that taxes rise because the children of Spanish-speaking parents, who may live in illegal apartments, enroll in the schools. Property assessments, they say, have not kept pace with the widespread and illegal conversion of single-family houses. They fear that simple, get-tough responses will not do enough to preserve neighborhoods and ease school costs.
Town officials say the Code Enforcement Department is doing its job, but the homeowners responsible for offending dwellings appear to have little fear of prosecution. The walls of local delis and food takeout places are hung with notes advertising rooms for rent. Stories from ambulance personnel and police are legion about basements carved into unsafe bunk rooms and houses in which bedrooms are locked from the outside. And, as some Springs residents say, you often can tell where a landlord is breaking the law just by counting the vehicles parked near certain houses.
The Concerned Citizens of Springs has asked for a meeting with town officials on the matter of illegal housing and enforcement. Officials should, of course, listen with open minds about anything government can do to help. But it will be meaningless unless the town can figure out how this community can provide more and better legal housing for the people who work here.