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Apr 25, 2017 2:58 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Montauk Homeowners Sue Over East Hampton Town Demands To Inspect Artist's Studio

Apr 25, 2017 2:58 PM

A Montauk couple has filed a lawsuit against East Hampton Town challenging the town’s right to inspect an artist’s studio on their property, and questioning whether a town law that demands access for regular inspections conforms to the U.S. Constitution and its Fourth Amendment protection against “unreasonable searches.”

Paul and Sarah Schroetter filed the lawsuit this month challenging the town’s right to inspect their property without any specific cause, other than the fact that it includes an artist’s studio.

The suit claims that the current homeowners should not be subject to the inspection demands in the town code, because they had no way to know that the artist’s studio on their property, built by a previous owner nearly 20 years ago, was subject to the inspection requirement. The property owner had agreed to a covenant that allows inspections, but it was never officially recorded and, therefore, not revealed when they bought the property.

The attorney representing the Schroetters, Jon Tarbet of the East Hampton law firm Tarbet & Lester, says that the town’s policy of demanding the right to an inspection, at the risk of a property owner losing the right to have the accessory structure, abuses its authority. “You can’t dangle something in front of someone on the condition that they give up their constitutional rights,” he said this week. “My people had no idea that there was a covenant, and then they get this notice that they have to allow the town to come in.”

Though the town has long had the authority, under the covenants, to inspect artist’s studios, they have rarely done so, Mr. Tarbet said. Officials said that this year, however, it sent notices to all artist’s studio owners that there would be inspections to ensure that each is being used as such—and not as illegal rental housing.

Mr. Tarbet acknowledged that if town officials did have a valid suspicion that the Schroetters’ studio was being used illegally, they could get a search warrant.

The town began allowing professional artists to build detached studios, exempted from typical accessory structure limitations, on their properties in 1990. In 2000, after abuses of the allowances, the town began requiring a covenant for annual inspections, at the town’s discretion, as a condition to being granted permission to construct them.

Mr. Tarbet said that among the flaws he sees in the law is that if a property is sold to someone other than a professional artist, it could mean the structure has to be removed entirely.

Town Attorney Michael Sendlenski said that the town is investigating whether the studio on the Schroetters’ property is being used improperly but would not discuss the town’s position on Mr. Tarbet’s claims in the lawsuit.

“We sent letters to everyone who has an artist’s studio, pursuant to what’s included in the law,” he said. “If you want one of these studios, you have to consent to the inspections.”

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Win this please.Towns have no rights for searches
By chief1 (2786), southampton on Apr 25, 17 11:31 PM
Amen to that Chief1. The Towns (Southampton could be the worst) make up their own rules. The problem is, most people cannot afford litigation against them. They think they can come and go on homeowners property without just cause. Someday a Class Action suit will be filed.
By The Real World (368), southampton on Apr 26, 17 7:33 AM
Of all the homes that could be searched, EH chooses a legal Artist?
Sounds like a lazy man's path of least resistance. Fight this tooth and nail, they'll go away.
By SlimeAlive (1181), Southampton on Apr 26, 17 7:36 AM
I agree with the above comments. The definition of artist's studio has always troubled me, especially after a house has been sold, potentially to a non-artist. They should be treated like pool houses, as recreational spaces then, unless they can be legally converted to some residential accessory use.
By Rickenbacker (257), Southampton on Apr 26, 17 8:37 AM
ok....let us look at both sides. how many people in SH and EH towns are allowing their single family residents to be used as multi-family residents? The courts would be flooded w applications for search warrants. its very simple....all accessory structures should be subject to inspection every 3 yrs, the homeowner schedules their appointment and we all go on living happily bc its at their convenience.
By Easterlywind (7), Southampton on Apr 26, 17 8:49 AM
1 member liked this comment
The Courts have repeatedly ruled against municipalities requiring searches of private property. In Sokolov v. Village of Freeport, 52 NY2d 341, the NY Court of Appeals declared a village ordinance unconstitutional because it required the homeowner to submit the property to a warrantless inspection in order to renew a rental permit. In ATM One LLC v. Incorporated Village of Hempstead, 91 AD3rd 585, the Second Department of the Appelate Division held that a Village law was unconstitutional because ...more
By WS (9), Westhampton Beach on Apr 26, 17 9:33 AM
While the search aspect is annoying the real problem is with the homeowners who claim that they had 'no way to know'.

..due diligence please.

More like 'we didn't ever look in to this'
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (741), southampton on Apr 26, 17 10:20 AM
Possibly that's right, but it's more likely that the final arbiter, the title search, beyond what the listing broker may have known or what the previous homeowners understood, should have flagged this. But since the homeowner that got the artist studio designation in the first place (apparently a few transactions back), was not required as part of the town's original approval for the studio to record the covenant with the County, it never happened, so a title search would not have shown it. The ...more
By Rickenbacker (257), Southampton on Apr 26, 17 1:13 PM
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