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Mar 26, 2018 10:11 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Hampton Rental Registry Law Trial Ends In Acquittal

Jim Henry was acquitted by a jury of violating the rental registry law.      MICHAEL WRIGHT
Mar 29, 2018 10:01 AM

In the first case of a violation of East Hampton Town’s rental registry law to go to trial, a Northwest Woods resident was acquitted by a jury of violating the law last week—even though he acknowledged renting a house without a permit.

The case left both sides scratching their heads and gave fuel to those who said the law, when adopted in late 2015, was ripe for overreach by government and could put essentially helpless tenants on the hook for thousands of dollars because of their landlords’ failures.

Settlers Landing resident Jim Henry was let off that hook by a jury of six that returned a verdict of not guilty in East Hampton Town Justice Court after just a few minutes of deliberation on Wednesday, March 21.

A neighbor had complained about the property being unkempt, and Mr. Henry, who has been a tenant in the house on Settlers Landing Road since 2014, was hit by town code enforcement officers with a handful of violations: not enough smoke detectors, a portion of deck that had been modified without building permits, a teepee that had been erected in the backyard, and the lack of a rental registry number.

Mr. Henry put in smoke detectors, fixed the deck and took down the teepee. But he did not get a rental registry number, because, as the tenant, not the home’s owner, he is not the one who can apply for it.

The person who needed to fill out the rental registry, as of May 2016, was Mr. Henry’s landlord, Dolores Karl. But Ms. Karl, who was in her late 80s and lived in Yonkers, was in ill health for much of that time and died in December 2017.

“She had no idea about the law or how to apply for it,” Mr. Henry said, standing in the kitchen of the house recently. “Them coming in here and telling us that we have to get it, and there isn’t a way for us to apply for it—it’s a Catch-22. I told them, I told her once a week. But she was very sick. There was nothing else I could do.”

The town still pressed the charges against Mr. Henry. He hired a lawyer, one who had been among the most firebrand voices against the rental registry law when it was being debated in 2015.

“This was my first opportunity to contest this piece of crap in Town Justice Court—and the jury agreed with me that it’s a piece of crap,” that attorney, Lawrence Kelly, said of the rental registry law.

“What boggles my mind is that any attorney in their right mind would charge a person for something they cannot do. They made criminal something that one cannot do. I said it then, and I almost can’t believe they proved me right.”

Mr. Kelly had, indeed, often brought up during public discussions in 2015 provisions of the rental registry code that allowed tenants to be charged with violations. Town officials at the time said such allowances were meant to protect unwitting landlords who had registered a rental property from tenants who later deviated from terms of the rental.

The town has prosecuted numerous violations of the rental registry law, with most being settled when the property is brought into compliance, and sometimes after the payment of fines. Mr. Henry’s case was the first to go to trial, largely because the defendant had little in the way of immediate recourse.

Town Attorney Michael Sendlenski, who represented the town at the trial, said he was surprised a bit himself by the jury’s verdict, considering that Mr. Henry had admitted on the stand that he was violating the law.

Because Mr. Henry, who lives with his girlfriend, Kate Albrecht, still occupies the house, he could technically be charged again, Mr. Sendlenski acknowledged.

“But we’re not going to do that,” the attorney added. “We will try to work with the estate, but my understanding is, an executor has not been assigned yet.”

In the meantime, Mr. Henry said, he still faces a code violation for the erstwhile teepee, which town officials said they had suspicions was being used as a residence last summer, perhaps for a fee. He is due back in court on April 9.

Mr. Henry scoffed at the idea, and said the teepee—15 feet across and 15 feet high—had been carried to the property by him and his friends from another house nearby. He said he was charged with not having a building permit.

“It’s just sticks leaning together,” he said with a shake of his head. “How is that any different from someone putting up a carport to cover their car?”

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Rental permit laws are ridiculous..Southampton take note. There is a difference between safety and stupidity.
By The Real World (368), southampton on Mar 27, 18 7:37 AM
2 members liked this comment
Rental permit laws are wonderful. Keeps tenants safe ...this house lacked smoke detectors.. and protects residents from landlord who don't give a crap about their neighbors. WIN WIN for 5-minutes of form filling.
By harbor (411), East Hampton on Mar 27, 18 9:22 AM
Here is the actual win/win: The Public Safety Director wins as he continues to enjoy double-dipping taxpayer $$ while not having to do his job enforcing existing laws or properly managing staff.
The town wins as they sit back and collect hundreds of thousands of dollars through the mismanaged Building Department while trying to convince the public the RR law is a cure-all for excessive turnover and unruly behavior.
This law is a sham, as is the checklist, designed to absolve the town from ...more
By BonacPlague (11), Gansett on Mar 27, 18 6:57 PM
It neither black or white. The EH law is definitely overreach, and I hope a test comes that proves portions of it as unconstitutional (such as the unbelievable requirement that all rental advertisements - which is free speech - carry a government-approved registry number, or the homeowner, publisher, real estate agency, website, can all be held liable by the town). However, rental laws are should no longer be thought of as what they were, mostly nuisances for the homeowner. Instead, recent court ...more
By Rickenbacker (257), Southampton on Mar 27, 18 11:20 AM
1 member liked this comment
BRAVO! Jury system worked like it should. He should due the Town.
By HB90 (163), southampton on Mar 27, 18 12:07 PM
Rental permits are bad until your crazy neighbor rents his house to crazy tenants which make your summer miserable... right? What is so onerous about the rental laws?
By harbor (411), East Hampton on Mar 27, 18 2:19 PM
1 member liked this comment
If you scroll up there's an article about rental laws so onerous that, even though the defendant essentially admitted guilt on the stand, the jury acquitted him.
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8032), HAMPTON BAYS on Mar 27, 18 2:37 PM
What alot of people do not realize is that the rentals lawas in SH were put in place to deal with the illegal group rentals, share houses as well as the over occupancy houses run like SRO's. The law cannot be discriminatory so it has to fit everyone. Of course alot off homeowners have never lived next to a party house or over occupancy house where they turn green lawns into parking lots, fitting a how many into a basement, unsafe and hazardous conditions. These types of rentals ruin homeowners quiet ...more
By North Sea Citizen (564), North Sea on Mar 28, 18 7:08 AM
North Sea, valid points EXCEPT there are and were codes on the books to deal with that...CO occupancy, noise laws, dark skies,quiet enjoyment. SH town has turned the Rental Permit Laws into a "gotcha, that deck is illegal" enterprise. Rental permit laws are nothing but a money grab in the name of safety. Its not to hard to tell if a home is overcrowded or used in a manor that it was not intended to be used for. Enforce the ordinances. That is what they are there for.
By The Real World (368), southampton on Mar 28, 18 3:51 PM
The rental registry law was the easiest way for officials to silence critics of Code Enforcement. There was frustration in how long it takes to investigate and get a conviction on housing violations, so rental registry was marketed as the magic bullet and shoved down everyone's throats. Unfortunately, the law is indeed a piece of crap.
Don't be surprised if the arrogant architects of this POS law continue to push for charges on it though - they want the headline to read: Despite Public Soundly ...more
By dogtired (29), north sea on Mar 28, 18 7:18 PM
East Hampton Town is criminally charging tenants for living in a house that isn't registered for rental. How is that favorable to any tenant? Especially those who may not stand up for themselves like this guy did. 

There was no just cause to lay responsibility on the tenant. Not when the EH court system fails due diligent work by not extending their jurisdcition to serve on anyone in NY state.
Landlord living in NYC never received notice from EH town.

How can a homeowner ...more
By SoundWordCarry (1), East Hampton on Mar 29, 18 8:42 PM
The rental "Registry" did not add any new laws with regard to occupancy rates, smoke detectors, etc. to the town code. All of those have existed for years, Why the town didn't just start enforcing those laws instead of adding a nonsense layer of red tape shows the short sighted nature of those who put the registry in place. There is specific code with regards to the size of a bedroom and how many people can occupy it so any home that is / was violating that code was doing so before the enacting ...more
By Rich Morey (373), East Hampton on Mar 30, 18 1:13 PM
1 member liked this comment
Anyone else curious as to why the well-paid town prosecutor opted out of handling this case? My guess is Nancy knew she couldn't win this one and didn't want to attach the name Thiele to such an embarrassing loss.
By BonacPlague (11), Gansett on Mar 31, 18 12:45 PM
Excellent example of Jury Nulification. He was guilty under the law, but the law wrong, they made it right. Too bad more things don’t go to trial.
By ICE (1214), Southampton on Apr 8, 18 12:44 PM
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