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Guilty Pleas in Case of House With 32 Residents

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 23:44
East Hampton Town police, ordinance enforcement officers, and fire marshals found 18 people sleeping on the basement floor of this Railroad Avenue house, with a gas-powered generator nearby.
Christopher Walsh

The owner and the manager of the single-family house at 38 Railroad Avenue in East Hampton at which town ordinance enforcement officers, police officers, building inspectors, and fire marshals found 32 unrelated people living in hazardous conditions last July have pleaded guilty to 13 charges and will pay fines totaling $21,000. 

Town officials had executed a search warrant at 6 a.m. on July 29, 2018, following an investigation into the property initiated by the town's Ordinance Enforcement Department, and discovered the 32 residents of the house. Among them were 18 people sleeping on mattresses on a basement floor. Most of those living in the house, at the end of a long dirt road off Abraham's Path, were from elsewhere but working at local businesses. 

Town officials also found a gasoline generator in the basement, and gasoline stored there. No smoke or carbon monoxide detectors were installed, and use of the generator could have created deadly levels of carbon monoxide, according to town officials. Residents of the house told investigators that they paid the house manager between $100 and $150 per week in cash for rent. 

The town code prohibits multifamily occupancy in single-family residences, as well as rental or occupancy of less than the entire residence. Language in the code also addresses overcrowding and excessive turnover. 

Evan L. Davis, the property owner, pleaded guilty to one count of violating the town code, in satisfaction of 34 charges, and paid a total fine of $10,000, according to a statement issued by the town on Tuesday. Elorda Braham, the property manager, pleaded guilty to 12 charges in satisfaction of 35 outstanding charges, and was fined $11,000. 

Under the terms of an order of conditional discharge offered to both defendants, which will be in effect until July 8, 2020, the Railroad Avenue house may not be rented to non-family members, and the maximum number of family tenants will be nine. The defendants must allow up to seven reinspections of the property to take place during the next 12 months to ensure compliance with the terms as well as with all other town code and New York State Fire Prevention Code and State Building Code provisions. 

The court may modify or expand on the requirements at its discretion, and if the defendants violate the conditions or commit an additional offense during the conditional discharge period, the agreement may be revoked and the matter referred back to the court. 

Mr. Davis, of Jamaica, Queens, was not at the property at the time the search warrant was executed. The occupants were not charged with any violations, but were to be removed from the house. 

In the statement, Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said the town "will remain vigilant in our efforts to address cases like this of overcrowding and misuse of single-family houses in residential neighborhoods. This type of situation not only poses a risk to the occupants of a house, but impacts public safety, the environment, and neighborhood residents by overtaxing septic systems and diminishing the quality of life." 

At the town board's work session on Tuesday, he emphasized the potential danger to the residents of the house and the detrimental effect on the surrounding neighborhood. Overcrowding "not only poses a risk to people's health and safety," he said, but "this particular house had gasoline and a generator in the basement and 18 people sleeping in it. Carbon monoxide could have poisoned them all. We could have had a real tragedy on our hands."