The Brookhaven Town Board has approved a code change to restrict the number of cars that can be parked outside rental homes such as those that house college students.

The law, approved 5-2 by the town board on Thursday, allows rental houses to have as many vehicles as bedrooms, plus one more car. For example, no more than four cars would be allowed at a three-bedroom home.

Town officials have said the law was drafted to prevent streets in residential neighborhoods where there are rental houses from being crowded with vehicles.

The parking restrictions, which do not affect owner-occupied homes, divided civic groups in Stony Brook, where residents have complained about boardinghouses occupied by a dozen or more university students.

Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said the law would make it easier for emergency vehicles and snow plows to traverse crowded roads.

"What we don't need is rentals providing additional cars on the streets," he said. "This is particularly true in areas of the town where you see a whole house rental and five or six cars in front of that house. It really puts a burden on safety on the streets."

Town officials said they had taken enforcement actions last year against dozens of properties in the Stony Brook area for town housing code violations.

Bruce Sander, a founder of Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners, supported the law, saying it would deter landlords from housing too many students. He said he recently has seen homes with as many as 10 vehicles parked outside.

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"It's another tool in our chest of devices we need to enforce the law on the rental houses," Sander said. "I think it's going to be a good deterrent."

The Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook opposed the measure because it treats rental homes differently from owner-occupied houses, said its president, Shawn Nuzzo.

"If this is a public safety issue, it should apply to all," Nuzzo said. "If a car parked on a street is dangerous, it shouldn't matter whether that car is registered to an owner or a renter or a visitor."

Councilwomen Valerie Cartright and Connie Kepert voted against the parking restrictions. Kepert said in an interview the law may violate the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law.

"As it's written, it's violating the rights of a subgroup, which happens to be renters," Kepert said. "It's not a good precedent to set."

Cartright, who represents Stony Brook, said she is concerned that owners of rental homes could successfully sue the town.

"I don't think in this particular instance, we should be pushing the envelope," said Cartright, a lawyer. "If there's a lawsuit, it's going to be the taxpayers that are going to be footing the bill."

With Deon J. Hampton