Amagansett residents told tales to the East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday about groups sharing summer rentals in their once-peaceful beachside neighborhood, and pleaded for the laws against “groupers” to be enforced.
Diana Walker used to live in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan but now lives in the Amagansett dunes, quite a contrast, she told the board. “But imagine my surprise,” she said, describing a scene outside her yard, with a young man urinating on her hedge and vomiting. She took care of the situation with a well-aimed hose, she said, and later, “I received flowers and a note of contrition,” with an accompanying explanation that the offender had just passed the bar exam — apparently an occasion to get roaring drunk.
Ms. Walker said that the “brats” she found on her lawn were from a nearby share house. “The landlord should be fined,” she said, “and the broker should lose their license.” As for the town, she said, it had a “history of condoning bratty behavior in the name of commerce.”
“It must stop. It will stop. Action will be taken,” Ms. Walker said.
June O’Reilly, a neighbor in the dunes, has already acted. Besides lodging complaints with the town code enforcers and police about the group house next door, she has hired a lawyer to mount a civil suit, and has taken the license plate numbers and identifying information on a dozen or so cars that park at the property in question every weekend.
“The last two years have been pure hell,” Ms. O’Reilly, a dentist who practices at her residence, told the board, thanks to the nearby family that has rented its house “to a group of 11 to 14 20-something-year-olds.”
“They party from 2:30 to 5 a.m. every Friday and Saturday night, and then they sleep it off,” she said. “So when the code enforcer comes by [in the daylight hours], all is quiet.”
“I have complained and complained,” said Ms. O’Reilly.
The town code says that single-family houses may not be shared by more than four unrelated people. The code also prohibits partial occupancy or rental, “excessive turnover” of tenancies, the selling of shares or rights to occupy a house on particular days or dates, and the overcrowding of bedrooms, with the number of occupants allowed based on square footage.
“This is a townwide problem that certainly seems to have escalated this year,” Patrick Gunn, the head of the town’s Division of Public Safety, said in an e-mail yesterday. “The Ordinance Enforcement Department takes this problem very seriously and is working within its means to address the complaints that come in.” The department, he said, “is working closely with the police department this summer in an effort to contain these situations.”
Ms. O’Reilly said she “partially blame[s]” the real estate agent who leased the property to the same group for a second year, even while aware of last summer’s problems. She named the broker and the agency.
“I really believe that if the town puts stress on this owner and the [ . . . ] real estate agency, something will be done,” she said.
According to the speakers at Tuesday’s meeting, it often happens that just one or two people sign a rental lease, but then they go on to sell shares to numerous others to stay in the house for varying periods of time.
Mr. Gunn wrote in his e-mail that he was “encouraged” by discussion at the meeting about “holding realtors more accountable for these situations.”
“Clearly, current enforcement efforts alone are not stopping the problem,” he wrote, “so I am hopeful that some legislative steps can be taken to make a more effective deterrent to landlords, as well as any realtors who are feeding this problem.”
“The share houses are a real big problem,” Rona Klopman, the president of the Amagansett East homeowners association, told the town board. Members of the group complain about litter, illegal parking, excessive noise, overcrowded houses, public intoxication, and public urination, she said. “There has to be more code enforcement at night,” Ms. Klopman said.
“You call code enforcement and nobody comes.”
According to Mr. Gunn, residents with complaints should call the police after hours and on weekends, when the administrative office of the Ordinance Enforcement Department is closed.
Scott Rodriguez, a senior ordinance inspector, is on duty for overnight shifts on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, he said, and two of the department’s four full-time officers work weekend days. Mr. Rodriguez is in “constant contact” with the police during his shifts, said Mr. Gunn, adding that he “responds to share house and house party complaints throughout the night, but is spread very thin,” as complaints come in after hours from all hamlets in the town.
Mr. Rodriguez assigns further investigation of alleged share houses to daytime inspectors, Mr. Gunn said. During working hours, he encouraged the public to submit a standard complaint form at the Ordinance Enforcement Department office.
Noise complaints, Mr. Gunn noted, are handled exclusively by the police, and noise violation charges associated with share house complaints are routinely filed by the police. Several share house cases are currently in town justice court, he said, and “multiple investigations are ongoing.”
Share house cases, he wrote, “are often difficult and labor-intensive to establish and prosecute,” as “access to these houses is often denied and tenants and their guests have become more savvy in denying access and answering questions. It is extremely difficult to obtain a copy of the lease, establish who is the actual tenant or tenants, and who is a guest. When a case is submitted to the Justice Court, it has been the policy of the department to charge both the tenant and the landlord initially and until compliance or accountability can be achieved.”
“It’s a business,” Ms. Klopman told the town board on Tuesday. She read from an online ad for shares in a summer house that provided pricing, details, and policies, along with a photo of nearby Indian Wells beach. The ad offered half-shares and quarter-shares, along with customized packages of weekends, and a discount if a renter paid by a certain date. Her recitation prompted laughs from members of the audience at Town Hall. “It’s not laughable,” Ms. Klopman commented. “Because the community is affected by it.”
Carl Hillmann, another Amagansett resident, said that though he is “lucky enough not to be a victim of a nearby share house,” he “see[s] the effects every day, and I hear all the anecdotes, and it’s nonstop. It’s obvious in the last few years it’s gotten much worse, and it’s not getting any better.”
The residents addressed the board during the public comment section of its work session this week, and their comments were not further discussed during the meeting. The board did, however, talk about the possibility of establishing a rental registry, which could assist in housing code enforcement efforts, as well as other issues regarding the proper use of residential properties. Those discussions are reported on separately in today’s Star.