East Hampton Town's proposed Rental Registry Law is emerging as the hot topic in East Hampton as we move through the fall toward a public hearing on the issue this November 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the American Legion
Hall in Amagansett. As drafted the purpose of the law is to collect information from landlords that, ostensibly, would enable the Town's Public Safety personnel (read Code Enforcement) to better enforce existing laws governing the occupancy and rental of single family homes, specifically citing the vexing issues of share houses and illegally over occupied dwellings.
It's a good idea, but the law as proposed is flawed, and should not be enacted.
The core requirement of the law is for a homeowner to obtain a rental registration number. Without a registration number it would be unlawful for a homeowner to rent, a property to be advertised for rent, and for a tenant to occupy a single family residence located in East Hampton Town. A notarised application for a rental registration number includes disclosing the number of bedrooms in a residence, their square footage, and providing a Certificate of Occupancy. A further requirement is to notify the Town when one rents the property, each time it is rented. And finally, the law allows for presumptive evidence, evidence that is considered fact until proven otherwise. Violations call for heavy fines, including possible jail time.
For example, under the proposed law if one offered their East Hampton home to be used by a friend, the Town can take the position that since it isn't occupied by the owner or his family, the property is being used as a rental property and therefore requires a rental registration number. Failure to have a rental registration number carries a fine of between $3,000 and $15,000, or a jail term of up to 6 months, or both.
"The foregoing may be rebutted by evidence presented to the enforcement authority or any court of competent jurisdiction", to quote the law, but the defendant(s) are left having to prove a negative, namely that the property was not rented. Defendant(s) because your unsuspecting friend has also violated Section 199-1-2 (B ii) of the law.
Welcome to East Hampton, where you are considered guilty until you can prove you are innocent.
All of this great stuff, of course, comes at a cost to the landlord/homeowner... $250 for the registration number (valid for two years), and then an update fee of $25 with each new tenant.
What makes a rental registry a good idea is that the town would have some sense as to the size of its rental pool and the important ability to contact a landlord, in an expedient manner, in the event of a code violation relating to the rental occupancy of their property.
The law as proposed doesn't help code enforcement to do a better job, once again its purported legislative purpose. On the contrary, the law seeks to pry deeper into the affairs of the citizenry, setting the stage for a quasi police state with a prosecutorial advantage. Code Enforcement relies upon complaints, tips and sleuthing to do its job. To make the claim that knowing the square
footage of the bedrooms in one's house would help Code Enforcement better do its job, or that any part of the proposed law, for that matter, will make it easier to uncover violations, is ludicrous. If anything it creates a whole new class of violations and violators.
When its proponents are challenged that the law might really be about raising revenue, the denial is quick in coming. As the proposed law does nothing to help Code Enforcement to better do its job, but instead burdens otherwise law abiding landlords with fees, forms, and, not to mention, the potential for large fines and the threat of incarceration, the law can only possibly be about money. Let's do everyone a favor and call a spade a spade.
In which case, keep it simple - here's my money, give me my number. The people could buy into that.
With the proponents of this law boasting a mandate in the recent elections, some form of rental registry seems inevitable. It's not a bad idea, but the proposed law is way off the mark, and is dangerous to our civil liberties and rights as property owners, and so deserves to be challenged. The proposed law's impact and the ramifications for our tourist based economy, the people who provide essential services, and homeowners who depend upon rental income for reasons of their own, among many others, also cannot be ignored. Yet, it seems that is what's happening.
You can visit www.stoptherentalregistry.com
and sign the petition if you agree. But be sure to attend the meeting on November 19th. It should be memorable.
The author of this opinion owns this website, and is a partner in the real estate brokerage Rosehip Partners.