A Sag Harbor couple is in hot water with Southampton Town for renting out their home without the proper permit. After the town conducted two searches of the house in June, Suffolk County Supreme Court Judge Mark Cohen granted the town’s request for a temporary retraining order on the property on Thursday, July 1. The order “effectively shuts down” the home, said the town in a press release.
Above: The front entrance of the rental home, located at 1206 Middle Line Highway.
The homeowner, James Melis, noted in an interview last week that he has rented out his second home for the past four years without issue. He resides full-time in Manhattan. Melis even created a multi-faceted website to lease out the residence on a nightly to yearly basis. “Once Upon Sag Harbor,” as Melis and his wife call their home, is located at 1206 Middle Line Highway, which is right on the border between Sag Harbor Village and Southampton Town.
“This handsome and magical two-story light and bright contemporary home is situated on a beautifully landscaped half acre property with a free-form heated pool and waterfall, bridge, sauna, bocce ball court and extensive decking,” Melis opines on his website, which includes detailed photos of the residence. The property includes the three-bedroom house and an artist’s studio with a loft.
Requiring a minimum four night stay in the summer season, Melis charged between $1,100 to $1,300 per night from Memorial Day through Labor Day. A seasonal rental cost $60,000. The trouble, alleges Melis, started a few weeks ago when a couple approached him about renting his home in the second week of June. Apparently, the couple told Melis they would be accompanied by their children and their children’s teenage cousins for a total of six people sleeping at the house.
But on June 11, at around 4:30 a.m. Southampton Town Police and the town’s investigations and enforcement unit were called to the home over a noise complaint from neighbors. During an investigation, town agencies said they found 17 people were staying at the house. Most of the group were from the Great Neck area and were 18 years old or younger. One individual was cited for an alcohol violation for underage drinking.
After obtaining a search warrant, town officials searched the home two days later and reportedly found eight safety violations. In a press release, the town said all safety equipment, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in the home were broken. Chief Town Investigator David Betts added that the pool was surround by a broken gate and the house was cited for electrical violations.
Less than two weeks later, on June 25 at 2:30 p.m., town police again returned to the home on a noise complaint. During this second search, police say they found 19 teens with one adult chaperon. Again the youths were 18 years old and younger and hailed from the Great Neck area. Town officials characterized the gathering as a prom or graduation party with a “copious amount of empty beer cans and liquor bottles,” said the town council office.
The second investigation resulted in eight new charges, said town officials, with the charges being adjudicated in the town justice court.
In an interview last week, Melis claims he wasn’t informed of the searches until Tuesday, June 29, the day before the town was granted a restraining order. Melis alleges that he wasn’t aware of the town’s transient laws, passed in 2007, which prohibit rentals for periods of less than 30 days. He noted that he didn’t obtain a town rental permit because he believed his property was located in Sag Harbor Village. Melis thought he was following the laws of the village. He believed all the smoke detectors were functional, but will hire an electrician to do an inspection in the coming weeks. Melis also pointed out that the pool gate wasn’t broken but that the lock wasn’t self closing.
“I was in shock,” Melis said of the searches and subsequent violation charges. “I rented it out to someone who wasn’t truthful with me. I was fuming with my tenant. I had to fix the damages … I had no clue the town was doing [the searches].”
Melis claims his tenants left garbage on the property and dented and scraped the walls.
Southampton Senior Assistant Town Attorney Joe Lombardo was surprised to hear Melis wasn’t aware of the searches.
“I find it hard to believe the parents weren’t calling him to complain that police were harassing their kids by executing the searches,” Lombardo remarked.
He added that court rules dictate the town notify their adversary before the restraining order hearing, thus Lombardo contacted Melis on Tuesday evening.
Lombardo explained each code violation carries a maximum $1,000 penalty with higher fines for duplicate charges.
“He is looking at thousands of dollars in fines,” Lombardo noted in an interview this week. He added that the town believes Melis also rented out the property over the July fourth weekend. A town code enforcement officer checked on the residence on Friday, Lombardo said, and discovered that a few adults were staying there and the restraining order notice had been taken off the front door.
Melis explained that he had previously rented out the property for the holiday weekend but after the restraining order was granted returned the money to the renters but allowed them to stay at the property for free. Melis’ attorney declined to comment on this recent development as well as the other violation charges.
Lombardo said he plans to file a motion alleging that Melis was in contempt of court by violating the restraining order. This charge carries with it punishment of up to 30 days in prison.