Town Charges 19 in Dawn Raid of Rented House

Police found 18 people staying at 13 Beech Hollow Court in Montauk during a raid on Saturday morning. T.E. McMorrow

Nineteen people were charged with violations of the town code when The East Hampton Town Code Enforcement Department, working with the Building Department, fire marshals, and town police, executed a search warrant at 13 Beech Hollow Court in Montauk at 6 a.m. According to Michael Sendlenski, the town attorney, 18 people were found staying in the house, which apparently had nine bedrooms. The homeowner was also charged.

The raid was the result of an investigation of an alleged share house and dangerous overcrowding, which spanned most of the summer. Alina Gersham, who leased the house for the season from Thomas Mahl of Montauk, was at the house at time of the raid. Mr. Mahl reportedly bought the house in 2006 for $1.65 million.

Ms. Gersham "was renting out rooms, parts of rooms, the illegally converted basement, and even the pool house . . . to 17 occupants for as much as $1,800 for a weekend per room," according to a town press release. She allegedly created six additional bedrooms, illegally converting the basement, among other spaces, into rooms that were firetraps, with no egress in case of emergency, and no smoke detectors, according to the release. The pool house was also allegedly converted into bedrooms illegally.

The town became aware of the apparent violations earlier this summer after police were called in response to a noise complaint. They issued summonses for noise violations as well as overcrowding. "They previously tried to legalize the basement, but the town said, 'No,' Mr. Sendlenski said, due to the dangerous conditions. Ms. Gersham, allegedly with the permission of Mr. Mahl, continued to rent out the rooms after the summonses were issued.

Each of the residents of the house on Saturday is facing charges under the town code on the use of single family residences. Ms. Gersham and Mr. Mahl, on the other hand, are facing "many dozens" of charges, quite a few of which are criminal misdemeanors, according to Mr. Sendlenski. The number of charges each is facing could top 100, he said.

Mr. Mahl, who was living at his house at 16 Gates Avenue in Montauk, told authorities he was not aware of what was happening on Beech Hollow Road. It is the second time in a year that one of his properties has been cited as an illegal share house. Kimberly Geise, then 46, who, like Ms. Gersham, rented the Gates Avenue house for the season, pleaded guilty in October to seven charges stemming from the sale of shares on AirBNB and Craigslist. "The homeowner, Tom Mahl, told investigators that he was unaware of what was going on," The Star said in reporting the charges. At the time, Mr. Sendlenski said homeowners are not generally charged the first time around. By phone on Saturday, he reiterated that point. "The second time around, the owner is culpable," he said. He added that the investigation was ongoing.

In the press release, the charges were described as "rental registry violations that provide that the landlord notify the town Building Department when the number of tenants change and when new rental periods begin and end." Other charges include the sale of shares, no smoke detectors, construction without a permit, no certificate of occupancy, improper egress for bedrooms in the basement, conversion of the house from single to multifamily use, and alleged violations with respect to the pool house and basement.

All 19 charged will be arraigned in East Hampton Town Justice Court on Sept. 26.

"As we start this busy holiday weekend, all of our public safety staff, especially the Code Enforcement Department who lead this investigation, deserve commendation for all their hard work and vigilance in protecting our community," Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said in a statement. "Our town will not tolerate violations of our town code, especially those sections designed to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our single-family neighborhoods and community at large."