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May 23, 2011 2:06 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Prom Season Brings Wave Of Illegal Party Rentals

May 25, 2011 11:40 AM

On a warm weekend last June, residents of a neighborhood on the outskirts of Sag Harbor Village called police to complain about a large number of noisy young people in a nearby house.

When code enforcement officers from Southampton Town arrived at the house, they found 17 people inside, all under the age of 21. The young man who answered the door told officers that the kids had rented the house for the weekend following their senior prom.

A week or so later, the owner of the house was charged with violating eight town health and safety codes at the house, and with failing to possess a town rental permit—although the permit, in fact, would have been suspended if he did have one, because town code does not allow a house to be rented for less than 30 days. The kids at the house were not issued any summonses.

The incident was not unusual. For students from schools in western Suffolk County, Nassau and Westchester counties, New York City, and several counties in northern New Jersey, renting a house in the Hamptons for an “after-party” on the weekend of their proms has become a common practice—one of the increasingly luxurious trappings of the annual prom ritual, such as renting a limo once was and borrowing the family car was before that.

Prom house rentals are sometimes shared by as few as a handful to a dozen kids. But often, two or three dozen may be present—and, occasionally, many more: a house rented by students from a Westchester County school district for this coming June has some 70 names on the guest list, according to an online posting.

The house leases are often arranged by an enterprising student who either conceals the plans for the rental or finds one that is marketed specifically to such parties. A simple online search turns up a half dozen such properties, and brokers say that there are many owners willing to rent to prom groups. Scores more listings are from teens and parents looking for a suitable after-prom rental.

Code enforcement officials say they find most prom houses are commonly rented year after year by students from the same school district, and are not chaperoned by an adult of any kind. Others have private security guards or a parent on the premises, but there are varying efforts to keep behavior in check. The party of 70 kids from Westchester, for example, is reportedly to be chaperoned by teachers from the school.

That parents and even teachers would be present at a weekend after-prom rental may be stunning, considering that while the idea of the “prom house” may have started innocently enough—a group of friends stretching the special night into a weekend retreat at a parents’ house in the Hamptons—the practice has evolved into a decidedly illicit activity. Police and code officers who knock on the doors of the party houses say that alcohol and drugs, sometimes in vast quantities, are almost always present at the underage parties, chaperones or not. The teenagers spend the night, or several nights, in the house together, enjoying the bacchanalia.

In 2005, the head of a well-regarded Catholic school in Nassau County cancelled the school’s prom because he learned that some students had rented a house in the Hamptons for the after-party—he said the school was “willing to sponsor a prom, but not an orgy.”

‘No Deaths (Almost One)’

A page on the popular social networking site Facebook, set up by Queens high school students who rented a house in Southampton in early May for an after-prom, shows no apparent adult presence in the more than 400 photos linked to the page—but plenty of visual evidence that beer and other alcohol was available in large quantities. It had the following assessment of the weekend, written by one of the participants: “Um, basically we had the greatest time ever. We drank heavily, we had no deaths (almost one), no damages, I mean one small non-obvious hole and a s---load of memories.”

In the 1990s, the motels of Montauk became a popular after-prom weekend destination for groups—sometimes busloads—of kids from up-island schools. The celebrations, perhaps not surprisingly, got rowdy. After several hotels were trashed in ways even a rock star would be shocked by—one group tore a hole in the walls between two rooms large enough for people to pass through—East Hampton Town Police cracked down, and hotels largely stopped booking the weekend group rentals. But the prom house trend has continued unabated.

The owners of homes booked for prom parties are occasionally unaware of who is to be using their house, according to Southampton Town’s chief code enforcement officer, David Betts, who said they might be misled by whoever arranges the rental. Others act as de-facto social coordinators.

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It's about time these were cracked down on. I hope group rental houses will be too. Craig's list has been full of them for years, yet no one tracks down the listers. I brought a number of big group rentals listings on Craigs List to the attention of a previous administration's deputy supervisor who couldn't have cared less. I bet if any had been next door to him his response would have been different.

Some of the Craig's list houses even arrange parties at bars in New York so that potential ...more
By goldenrod (505), southampton on May 26, 11 2:28 PM