Illegal rentals targeted by civic group in Hampton Bays

FILE: A sign welcomes visitors to the hamlet FILE: A sign welcomes visitors to the hamlet of Hampton Bays in Southampton Town. Photo Credit: Erin Geismar, June 18, 2012

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Hundreds of single-family houses in Hampton Bays operate as illegal rentals, according to numbers compiled by a civic group that wants its data-oriented approach to spur Southampton Town to shut them down.

Concerned Citizens of Hampton Bays analyzed 581 houses rented by families sending students to the local school district in 2013, and found that 84 percent lacked rental property permits. That represents a slight improvement from 2012, when the group found that 86 percent of the 535 rental houses it analyzed lacked permits.

Housing advocates say the illegal apartments reflect a dire need for affordable housing in the Hamptons.

Hampton Bays, the most populous hamlet in Southampton Town with 13,000 residents, is where many middle- and working-class residents live. The community fronts two bays and the ocean, but lacks the waterfront mansions that occupy other corners of the Hamptons, and has seen its nightclub-centric tourism industry decline over the years.

School officials said about 60 percent of the Hampton Bays School District's 2,000 students live in rentals.

Members of Concerned Citizens, which formed in 2011, said the illegal rentals drive up school taxes, hurt property values and stall its goal of reviving tourism.

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"We know we're not Bridgehampton or Sagaponack, but we know we're not supposed to be where we are right now," said Michael Dunn, one of the group's founders.

But crackdowns in Hampton Bays do not solve an "appalling lack of housing for the workers below the poverty line in the Hamptons," said Sister Mary Beth Moore of Centro Corazon de Maria, a Hampton Bays organization that aids immigrants.

Concerned Citizens for the past two years asked the school district for all rental addresses where students live, identified the single-family houses -- which make up a majority of the rentals -- then compared those addresses with the town's rental permit records.

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Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said code enforcement officers have checked "every single one" of the properties the group identified and the town has issued numerous violations, although she could not immediately provide figures.

"Certainly, Southampton is an expensive place to live," said Jennifer Garvey, a town spokeswoman. "Finding affordable housing can be a challenge, and is an issue the town continues to work on," but "safety must remain the priority concern."

In addition to the houses, many motels that once hosted tourists are operated illegally as year-round apartments, civic group members and town officials said.

"Those people have nothing better to do with their lives," Stergios Tallides, the owner of a North Highway motel flagged by civic members and later cited for housing violations, said of the activists.

Throne-Holst said the town recently restructured its code enforcement department, upgraded the department's software and increased fines for repeat offenders of rental laws to as much as $30,000.

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