Early on the morning of Nov. 30, code enforcement officers, with the assistance of the East Hampton Town Police Department, executed a search warrant at 64 Woodbine Drive in Springs and filed 29 charges against the owner of the house, Gerard Picco, alleging that he has added two bedrooms and an illegal two-bedroom basement apartment to his three-bedroom residence, all without the necessary permits.
Mr. Picco, speaking outside the house on Friday, denied the charges. “There is no illegal apartment here,” he said. He claimed to have registered with the town under its rental registration laws.
According to code enforcement, “The lower level apartment had a full kitchen and a full bathroom, walls, and plumbing, as well as electrical outlets, all of which had been constructed and installed without any building permits or inspections, as required by the town code.”
The town supervisor’s office released a statement following the search. A warrant was issued, according to David Betts, the town’s director of public safety, because Mr. Picco had declined to allow an inspection of the house. “If we get a report that there is a basement apartment in a particular house, we go to the conditions,” Mr. Betts said on Monday. “We see if there is a finished basement, if there is living space, if living there is permitted, sleeping there is permitted. In this particular case, we ended up going to get a search warrant because we were unable to verify information.”
Mr. Betts declined to say how the town learned about the allegedly illegal apartment, but Mr. Picco recalled that a police officer, apparently investigating an unrelated complaint of domestic violence, had come to the door a few nights before the raid, asking if there were an apartment in the back. “You come to my house, it’s 10 or 11 o’clock at night, we’re all sleeping. I don’t know,” Mr. Picco said he told the officer, adding, “We didn’t call you.” Then, he said, “the whole thing escalated.”
According to Mr. Picco, the basement apartment was there when he and his wife bought the house. “All we did was put windows in,” he said. “We redid the shingles, Sheetrock, we cleaned it up, we dressed it up, we didn’t do anything. Technically, it is cosmetic.”
The town, however, has a different take. Kelly Kampf, assistant director of public safety, was on site during the dawn raid, and reported that the two basement bedrooms lacked windows large enough to escape in case of fire and were too far off the floor even had they been of legal size. In addition, she said Monday, the ceiling was under the required minimum height of seven feet. She also noted a lack of smoke or carbon monoxide detectors, and said there were exposed wires.
Many of the charges are unclassified misdemeanors. Mr. Picco, a senior director at Avison Young, an international commercial real estate firm, is scheduled for arraignment in East Hampton Town Justice Court on Jan. 16.
When he bought the house, he said Friday, no inspector came to update its certificate of occupancy. The original C of O was issued to Bertha Quackenbush in 1967. It appears from the records on file with the town’s building department that a fire caused damage to the structure at some point, long before Mr. Picco purchased it for $575,000 in 2007.
“All I know is, when we bought the house there was an apartment down there,” he said. “There was a bathroom, a kitchenette, it was all there. That is one reason we bought the house.”
He compared the visit from the code enforcement officers to a SWAT team. “Scary. We have little kids here. It sounds like I am an evil person. I thought I was doing [the town]. a service. A nice apartment. It’s not like I’m some kind of . . .” he trailed off. “I live in the house.”
He acknowledged that the town had tried to inspect the premises at least once before, and that he had turned them away. “They showed up on a weekday. I was on a conference call. My wife was out, I am watching two kids, I couldn’t let them in. The day before Thanksgiving. We were ready to leave.”
Mr. Picco said the tenants in the apartment want to stay. “They have only been here for 30 days,” he said, adding that he wanted to work with the town: “I am sure it is a total misunderstanding. Issues, let’s address them. And if you tell me at the end of the day, that it is not grandfathered, you can’t have an apartment, that is okay with me. We’re not criminals.”
“Illegal and unsafe basement occupancy creates the potential for tragic consequences for occupants, overcrowds neighborhoods, and must be strictly enforced,” Supervisor Larry Cantwell said in last week’s release.