The East Hampton Town Board voted unanimously on Tuesday morning to adopt the proposed rental registry, despite continued opposition from landlords.
The law will take effect early next year and the town expects to have the registry application documents ready by February 2016, looking to begin enforcing the requirements on May 1.
Ahead of their votes, board members acknowledged the staunch and vocal opposition to the registry proposal by hundreds of residents, but said they felt that much of the opposition to the law was rooted in misunderstanding, misinformation and a fear that it will not aid enforcement of existing restrictions on rentals that are currently violated regularly.
“Even today I heard speakers say things that aren’t in this law,” Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said. “I hope they will read the law. To keep hearing the same misinformation over and over again, it makes me think that people need to really educate themselves on this.”
Councilman Fred Overton, one of the sponsors of the legislation, said that he thinks once the law is in place, owners of rental properties will find it does not inconvenience them as much as they’ve been led to believe by those seeking to derail the legislation to avoid prosecution of violations.
“I’m convinced that this is not going to create the problems that some people feel it is,” Mr. Overton said. “We’ve made it as simple as possible. After all our discussions and listening to the public … I’m still comfortable in offering this resolution.”
The rental registry was first proposed late last year and was the subject of much derision from residents last winter over an initial version of the law. That bill, which required that homeowners allow building inspectors to inspect their homes, was shelved.
The tailored version introduced formally this fall simplified the application process, requiring only that homeowners declare that their house meets health and safety requirements and show that it has a certificate of occupancy. The application requires that the number of bedrooms in the house be listed and that a notice be filed with the town each time a new tenant is to occupy the house. Tenants will not have to be identified by name, but the number of occupants and the term of the rental must be listed.
The board on Wednesday also approved setting the fee for registration of a rental property at $100 every two years. The board had been considering fees as high as $250 for the initial registration, $125 for renewals and additional fees each time a new tenant was registered at the property.
Town ordinance enforcement officials have said that the registry will be a helpful tool in identifying and bringing fines against owners or tenants who are violating town codes regarding rentals.
Hundreds of residents attended a public hearing on November 19 at which many objected to the rental registry proposal, saying that it would be an intrusion by the town on their private property rights.
Some of the opponents to the registration, made clear that the root of their concerns were existing town laws limiting a property to only two separate rentals of less than two weeks each season. Landlords said that one-week rentals have become a key component of the rental market and that eliminating them would rob homeowners of needed rental income.
Supervisor Larry Cantwell nodded to that concern before casting his vote on Tuesday and harked to the burgeoning market for properties intended solely for rental use, spurred by the market for short-term rentals driven by online booking sites like Airbnb.com
“The truth is there’s room for disagreement here,” he said. “It is clear that there is a great deal of high-turnover, weekly rentals going on in our town and some of the opposition to this [comes from] concern that this is going to put a damper on some of that activity.
“I think we have to ask ourselves the larger question here which is: what do we want our residential neighborhoods to be,” he continued. “Do we want to commercialize these residential neighborhoods. Do we want to encourage high-turnover rentals? Or do we want to protect our second-home industry. The core reason why people buy homes here is not … as a rental investment property, but as a home or as a second home. I think there’s got to be some limit to the commercialization of our residential neighborhoods.”
With Tuesday’s vote, East Hampton becomes the eighth of Suffolk County’s 10 towns to adopt a registry or permit requirement for homeowners offering their houses for rent.
Prior to their vote, the board heard one last round of input from opponents to the law.
“Has there been an analysis to support the need for this law,” asked Tom Steele, who has been one of the most vocal opponents of the law and an organizer of the public effort to derail it. “Given the magnitude of the issues raised and the overwhelming public opposition, I urge this board to vote no.”
All of the opponents who spoke on Tuesday morning, nodded to the possibility of legal challenges that they said they expect will be filed over what they have said is unconstitutionality in the law.
“I see this as another layer of bureaucracy,” said Reg Cornelia, a Springs resident. “It’s going to cost a lot and I’m sure the lawyers are rejoicing.”