Rental Registry Revolt

A large crowd is expected at Nov. 19 hearing
Opponents of a proposed East Hampton law that would require landlords to register with the town have mounted an organized campaign. Christine Sampson

Opponents of a rental registry law proposed by the East Hampton Town Board, which will be the subject of a public hearing on Nov. 19, have set up a website, a Facebook page, and an online petition to advocate against the law, which would require property owners to obtain a registry number from the town before offering their houses for lease.

According to town officials, the registry will help deter repeated short-term rentals, overcrowding, summer share houses, and the like.

The law would require lessors to provide information to the town about lease terms and number of tenants, pay fees to obtain and update their registrations, and certify that properties comply with current building and maintenance codes. Opponents say it is intrusive and will unfairly burden homeowners and that it will not necessarily improve enforcement of the code. That can be achieved with better enforcement of existing laws, they say.

The petition, on Change.org, had 780 supporters as of Tuesday. On that site, the opponents, who describe themselves as “taxpayers, homeowners, business owners, visitors, tourists and shoppers,” and “residents, parents, retirees, farmers, fishermen, artists and good law-abiding members of the East Hampton community,” say that the registry “opens the door for intrusive home inspections” and will cause economic harm.

“Local residents and second-home owners rent their homes to cover expenses, mortgages, college educations, retirement, and to just make ends meet. The rental registry law will add a layer of bureaucracy that discourages all renting, which will cause substantial hardship,” the petition says. “Serious housing problems in East Hampton are mostly due to a minority of unscrupulous landlords. Affordable housing is scarce due to escalating real estate values. A rental registry cannot solve these problems.”

The anti-rental registry movement has prompted advocates of the proposed law to do some outreach themselves. In recent days, its supporters have expressed their opinions in letters to the editor and mounted an email campaign.

The Nov. 19 hearing will be held at the American Legion Hall in Amagansett, which has more space than Town Hall. A large crowd is expected.

At several previous hearings held by the town board on the registry idea, those opposed far outnumbered those in support. The board recently revised the law in an attempt to address some of the concerns raised at those hearings.

Before Tuesday’s election, rental registry opponents posted signs around town urging voters to support the Republican candidates for town supervisor and town board. The Democratic incumbents, along with the other two members of the sitting board, support the proposed law.

On the website stoptherentalregistry. com, opponents note that a house owned by Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc and his wife is listed for rent on VacationRentals.com. The listing, for a new, four-bedroom house in Northwest, offers the house for a minimum seven-night stay, with several periods, such as next year’s entire summer season, and May and September 2016, blocked off for much longer stays. The town code does not limit rentals of two weeks or more; shorter-term rentals are allowed only two times within a six-month period.

Stoptherentalregistry.com also includes a list of quotes said to be from opponents of the law, though they are not attributed. In emails to The Star, the anti-registry contingent has declined to provide a spokesperson or the names of group organizers.

East Hampton property owners who have spoken out against the registry at the recent town board meetings include Gregory Gordon and Tom Steele, and a letter to the town board opposing it from an Amagansett attorney, Elaine Harris, is posted at the anti-registry website. She raises issues about the law’s constitutionality, and requests the formation of a citizens committee to redraft the proposal.

Also posted on the website this week was a link to a YouTube video that allegedly shows someone removing political signs from among a group of campaign signs on a street corner. Opponents are said to suspect a Springs woman who has been a vocal supporter of the registry of being the person in the video. East Hampton Town police are reportedly looking into the matter.