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Southampton Town Shuts Down Harbor Rental

Posted on 12 July 2010

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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.

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12 Responses to “Southampton Town Shuts Down Harbor Rental”

  1. bill baily says:

    How can the town have such anti homeowner hysterics? Seems a bit militant to me.

  2. atwitsend says:

    Well Bill, I guess you’ve never had this happen in your neighborhood. Imagine your Memorial Day weekend listening to screaming teen-agers, music playing at the highest volume possible, horse shoes clinking, doors slamming, people jumping in the pool and cars racing up and down the street. Doesn’t sound bad? Imagine it between the hours of midnight and 4:00 a.m.!!! Trust me, not much fun, especially when the people around this house have to get themselves up for work and their kids up for school. All that aside, what responsible parents would rent a house in the hamptons for underage kids and let them have at it without any kind of supervision? Homeowner hysterics? I think not.

  3. Jim Stone says:

    To the last poster – you are an idiot! If you want to stop noise and overcrowding – have lawsa against noise and overcrowding. But stopping owners from renting their homes is purs BS. The Code enforcers should be hot in the head along wiht their families. And the laws should be changed to be constitutional . No other town EXCEPT Southampton has such a witch hunt – when people are robbing and killing and destorying this workld – ass — hole Betts has nothing better to do than jerk off good people who need money by renting their homes – mostly to decent doctors , and other professionals. Betts should just die nothing else. There 6000 honmeowners who renbt and give the Hamptons a good ecponomy. Business and MANY are unboard. Soon we will have a strong owners lobby and put Betts where he belongs – in prison.

  4. Jim Stone says:

    To the last poster – you are an idiot! If you want to stop noise and overcrowding – have laws against noise and overcrowding. But stopping owners from renting their homes is pure BS. The Code enforcers should be shot in the head along with their families. And the laws should be changed to be constitutional . No other town EXCEPT Southampton has such a witch hunt – when people are robbing and killing and destroying this world ass — hole Betts has nothing better to do than jerk off good people who need money by renting their homes – mostly to decent doctors , and other professionals. Betts should just die nothing else. There are 6000 homeowners who rent and give the Hamptons a good economy with many renters – there are only 200 hotel rooms and over 6000 short-term renters EVERY week! Businesses and MANY are unboard stopping Betts. Soon we will have a strong owners lobby and put Betts where he belongs – in prison.

  5. Robert Campbell says:

    Once there is a petition before the Town Supervisor of all these owners who want their freedom to rent safely – something will have to give. It is poor politics to have a law designed to stop noise and overcrowding – that just stops renting – Chapter 270 is akin to a law stopping black people from visiting a Dunkin Donuts at 3AM to lower crime. It is just plain prejudiced and surely unconstitutional. I hope Southampton comes to its senses with a younger generation of politicians or a good class action attorney. ALLOW OWNERS freedom to have whoever they want as guests – whether they pay or not!! You can’t say a guest becomes “unsafe” just because he is paying! Allow TRANSIENT RENTALS – just like East Hampton and just like EVERY other Town in the United States!!! Southampton must be made to pay for the creation of Chapter 270 and the damages it has caused over 6000 homeowners.

  6. Jim S. says:

    I want to provide a censored version: To the last poster – you are incorrect to imply that that Chapter 270 is healthy. If you want to stop noise and overcrowding – have laws against noise and overcrowding! But stopping owners from renting their homes with the same rights as they have to have guests in their home is pure BS. The Code enforcers should be informed of the real purpose of Chapter 270 – to stop noise and overcrowding (as quoted by Heaney in the NY Times). And the laws should be changed to address ONLY noise and overcrowding. when people are robbing and killing and destroying this world – Betts has nothing better to do than jerk around good people who need money by renting their homes – mostly to decent doctors, executives and other professionals. Betts should be put in his place by some victory. The problem is there is no cohesive Landlord Lobby of Southampton. The tax-payers (6000 of them) are more so beat up by his antics, less so helped. There are 6000 homeowners who rent and give the Hamptons a good economy with many renters – there are only 200 hotel rooms and over 6000 short-term renters EVERY week! Businesses and MANY are onboard stopping Betts. Soon we will have a strong owners lobby and put Betts where he belongs – out of business – or with a changed mentality – Challenge to Betts who I am sure can be a nice guy if he remembers what real criminals are like: can you work on real SAFETY issues – REAL safety issues – otherwise stay OUT OF OUR HOMES?!? It is just a matter of time months or years, before that law is overturned. Ashamed of our local government.

  7. John C. says:

    Hey Jim,

    Interested to see if this homeowners lobby is underway and if i can help/join in anyway!

  8. mason says:

    I am vehemently opposed to the SH rental law. Residential Landlords can not have a rental for less than 30 days even if it is a family. Demand for vacation & transient housing exceeds available commercial rental units. Businesses are suffering (many have already closed) and as a result commercial Landlords are hurting. Tourism is a major contributor to the local economy. Yet our elected officials pass a law that hurts the people who elected them into office. Betts utilizes illegal tactics and selective enforcement and harasses property owners. The Town should be held accountable for his conduct and he should be removed from his position.

  9. Miki says:

    It is truly sad to see the selective enforcement of town codes. Too many code enforcers have become Gestapo types. They lie to tenants, give fake reasons for searches and enter homes without permission or warrants. What has our town come to? I certainly understand and respect ones quality of life, but what about our constitutional rights. This is our home. We worked for it, built it and due to the economy cannot to keep it. Renting during the summer is our only means of keeping our home. It certainly is time for us to fight back to regain our rights.

  10. Nadine says:

    anyone want to work on a petition? All the Real Estate companies should step up too. Go cal one and say you want a big place for a week for $25,000 and I bet you get agents to help you.

  11. Julie jones says:

    There is a new short term advocacy group which is formed by homeaway. Go to their website http://www.homeaway.com and sign up to get the latest info. I believe all home owners want to be good neighbors.


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