With hopes now dashed that starting a rental permitting process would allow code enforcement officers to inspect houses, the East Hampton Town Board is still debating the merits of a rental registry.
Requiring homeowners to obtain rental permits has been considered key to combating overcrowding and share houses, but the discussion hit a snag a few weeks ago when Assistant Town Attorney and Public Safety Administrator Pat Gunn told the board that the inspection element was actually unconstitutional.
Since then, the dialogue has turned to what benefits the town could still reap from a registry and what administrative burden it would impose on the town’s staff.
Councilman Dominick Stanzione, the spearhead behind the legislation, has continued to press for the draft law to be tweaked so that it can go to a public hearing. Other communities, he says, have circumvented problems by not omitting clauses deemed unconstitutional.
Also, he said in a Monday interview, he is exploring some alternatives involving technology as a way to ease the administrative burden a registry would present.
East Hampton Town Councilwoman Theresa Quigley said in a Monday interview that Southampton Town’s rental permit law has a big backlog involving some 500 permits.
Southampton Town’s chief building inspector, Michael Benincasa, was unavailable for comment this week, his office said, but Jennifer Garvey, an assistant to Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne Holst confirmed that Southampton is behind in processing permit requests.
“There is currently a backlog in rental permit inspection requests—due largely to a marked recent increase in permit requests,” she said in an email on Tuesday. “But the rental permit has proven to be a useful tool in Southampton Town for ensuring the safety and appropriate use of residences.”
Mr. Stanzione said he would continue to press for a law in East Hampton.
“This remains an important public policy initiative that I take some pride in bringing to the attention of the board and the public, to respond to the seemingly out-of-control grouper housing issues, as well as overcrowding in Springs,” said Mr. Stanzione.
But for Ms. Quigley, now that the inspection option has been taken off the table, she said she wants to know what function a registry could serve, or, as she likes to say, what “tool” it could be in the town’s toolbox.
Starting a rental permit process risks being more show than substance, she said.
“The rental registry is a grand idea that has more of an impact on people thinking we’re doing something than it’s ability to do anything,” she said.
Without the inspection element, it’s just a lot of paperwork, she added.
The hoped-for inspections would have been performed by the town prior to each permit being issued and would check for such hazards as beds next to basement boilers, she said.
The proposed legislation would require every homeowner in town who wants to rent their property to get a permit to do so. Ms. Quigley said she did not know what percentage of the approximately 22,000 housing units in town are rented for at least a portion of the year.
“I think that the town is at a position where its infrastructure cannot support the overcrowding,” she said. “We as a town need to step back and look at serious planning issues, the big picture.”
The town would benefit from people with innovative ideas stepping forward with possible solutions and flexibility in the town to entertain those ideas, she said.
Democratic Town Supervisor candidate Larry Cantwell said he believes the rental registry law should be considered carefully and with sufficient public comment. He said he too has heard of mixed results coming out of Southampton. One concern, he said, is that the success rate of people actually registering is “quite low” compared to the number of houses being rented.
East Hampton, he said, needs to better enforce its current laws, before making new ones.
The proposed law’s fine structure has also been a subject of debate, although Mr. Stanzione said that on Monday, the penalty for a first infraction stood at $1,000 and a second at $5,000.
He acknowledged they may need to be higher.
Mr. Gunn, who previously told the board that the fines needed to be of a certain heft, did not return requests for comment.