Homeowners Charged in High Tenant Turnover

Online complaint form helped town build case

Two Montauk homeowners have been charged with violations of the East Hampton Town code related to tenant turnover in the houses they rent.

Louis Scagnelli, the owner of 20 Foxboro Road, is accused of “renting out his house to a rotating cast of tenants over successive weekends,” according to a press release from the town’s Code Enforcement Department. Complaints from nearby residents cited new tenants and excessive vehicles and noise on weekends, the release said. Mr. Scagnelli was charged with six counts of excessive turnover, and more charges are likely as the investigation is continuing, according to David Betts, the town’s director of public safety.

One neighbor, who spoke to the press about the problem in June, said that week to week, “You never know what to expect.” Some weeks of the summer, she said, the temporary renters were relatively calm, whereas, in others, “all hell breaks loose.” She had called the town several times to complain, but felt she was getting the runaround. The neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said the house was being advertised online as a party house.

When a reporter visited the house one Sunday and identified himself as such, a renter told him that he and 12 others in their early 20s had rented it out for the weekend. The double garage door was open that day, revealing a cavernous space that could easily hold six cars. The renters that weekend had all taken the train to Montauk.

John Templeman, a Manhattan attorney and owner of 5 South Federal Street, was charged initially with one count of excessive turnover and one count of electronic medium advertising daily and weekly rentals. He had advertised his house on several Internet sites, including Airbnb, for fees that ranged from $900 per night to $1,600, with an additional $50 for each guest over 10. The activities at Mr. Templeman’s house, which were previously reported in The Star, prompted a longtime resident of the hamlet to create a Facebook page, Montauk Rental Madness.

Three more charges against Mr. Templeton were added on Tuesday: illegally converting a residence into a two-unit house and lacking a certificate of occupancy for the newly created spaces. According to Mr. Betts, Mr. Templeton faces possible fines of $500 to $1,000 per charge, as well as up to six months in jail. The charges are misdemeanors.

Mr. Templeman was also charged with pumping pool water into the street.

“Excessive turnover has been the focus of many of our online complaints and is being vigorously investigated to provide for the quality of life expected in our town,” Mr. Betts said. Mr. Betts said last Thursday that the activities at the two houses were among the most egregious violations of the provisions of the code covering rentals.

Regarding Mr. Scagnelli, he said, “I think that when somebody continues to violate the code five and six and seven and eight times — that might be one of the more significant ones.”

The town has adopted what is essentially a “three strikes and you’re out” policy. Mr. Betts said that the town will aggressively pursue owners with three or more incidents of violating town law regarding short-term rentals. He also said there are several more owners throughout the town who are at the two-incident level, so there are likely more cases yet to come.

Investigation into the activities at both houses began two months ago, after the town learned what was occurring through its online complaint form, a new tool launched in late May. The form has been effective in gathering the evidence needed to take code-breakers to court, Betsy Bambrick, the head of the Enforcement Department, told the town board just this week.

According to Mr. Betts, the public’s use of this “real time” tool is essential for enforcement. “We need people to call up, but also to use the online system.” It is a mistake for residents to wait until morning to make a complaint if there is an egregious violation.

By going to the online complaint page, code enforcement officers, who are in the field on weekends as late as 2:30 in the morning, can react right away, and catch violations that may be harder to find in the morning. “We need to have the public help us with enforcement,” Mr. Betts said.