Big Fines for Share House Guilty Pleas

East Hampton Town Code Enforcement officials raided a three-bedroom house at 13 Beech Hollow Court and found six more, illegal bedrooms.

With guilty pleas in East Hampton Town Justice Court on Monday to 24 misdemeanor charges and a $15,000 fine, Thomas Mahl, a Montauk homeowner, concluded a highly publicized case about a share house, or one rented to more people than the town code allows. Mr. Mahl's tenant and co-defender, Alina Gersham, had pleaded guilty five months earlier and paid a $20,000 fine.

At 6 a.m. on Sept. 3 last year, the East Hampton Town Code Enforcement Department, working with the Building Department, fire marshals, and the town police, had searched the house, at 13 Beech Hollow Court. They found nine bedrooms, six of which had been created illegally, and 18 people asleep.

In a press release on Monday, East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said, "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."
Mr. Mahl had blamed Ms. Gersham for the violations
, alleging that her fine was simply the cost of doing business. He said he had never received any funds from the profit, and estimated that she had made about $300,000 over the 2016 summer.

"I was forced into pleading guilty," Mr. Mahl said as he waited to make an initial payment on his fine at the court clerk's office. He said he had been in Montauk his whole life."My kids went to kindergarten in Montauk, and East Hampton High School." He said he is now seeking to conform to all all town code requirements so that he can sell his house and move to Florida.

The charges to which Mr. Mahl pleaded guilty included multiple counts of not having required building permits and certificates of occupancy needed to legalize the numerous changes made to the interior, well as violations of the state fire code and of town law requiring pools to be enclosed. In a deal worked out between Mr. Mahl, who was represented in court Monday by Brian Kirst of the law firm Matthews, Kirst & Cooley, and the town attorney's office, headed by Michael Sendlenski, some of the charges were dropped. During the proceedings, Justice Lisa R. Rana went over each charge and asked if he had been coerced in anyway into entering his plea. He said, "No," softly. She fined him $625 for each misdemeanor.

Mr. Mahl said he could not afford to pay the law firm defending him, and that Brian Matthews, the firm's head, had agreed not to be paid until Mr. Mahl sells his house. He said he had known Mr. Matthews for many years,

Justice Rana granted Mr. Mahl six months to pay the fine, but said she wanted some money paid immediately. "I just want to say, we don't want any repeat performances of this nature," Justice Rana warned Mr. Mahl. In the press release, Supervisor Cantwell also said,”Beyond the disruption that this homeowner caused to his neighborhood, he and his tenant created a very dangerous condition that could have turned tragic in an instant.”

In 2015, a house that Mr. Mahl owned on Gates Avenue in Montauk drew similar charges, but only against the renter, Kimberly Geise. Mr. Sendlenski said that at the time homeowners caught in such a situation who claimed, as Mr. Mahl did in 2015, that they had no knowledge of what the renter was doing with the house, were not charged the first time around. With strike two, they are charged, he said. Ms. Geise eventually pleaded guilty to seven charges.