There is no safety in numbers, or in anything else.
Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.
--Hunter S. Thompson
Before you consider renting or buying a house in the Hamptons, read this.
It is rather long but is instructive as to the method which the Town of Southampton is intent on using to abrogate your rights, as citizens and as property owners. It should alarm you and foster a decision about taking action. In response to this travesty of justice we are engaged in a new Civil Rights cause. Don’t come out on the wrong side of this injustice.
A few years ago, when Skip Heaney was running the Town of Southampton, a sting operation was arranged between the Police Department, the Code Enforcement’s “rubber-gun squad” and reporters from the Southampton Press. A spontaneous visit was organized, just as a photographer and reporter “happened by” from the Southampton Press to rouse a group of summer renters for creating an unsafe situation – at 6 a.m.
The real reason for the bust, of course, was the fact that Heaney lived in Hampton Bays, a sister community to East Quogue and it is the largest voting block in the Town of Southampton. So, to protect his voting base after they complained to him, Heaney arranged a little show for his constituents in the guise of protecting the Town from unruly rentals. Photos of wild-eyed twenty-something’s from Queens and Brooklyn rousted from their beds for not having proper garbage disposition and who were rumored to have been performing dubious acts of fraternization by the pool --appeared in the Southampton Press.
The show and subsequent press coverage did the trick. Even though there were laws pertaining to proper codes and enforcement were already on the books – this little show gave the Town the opportunity to dampen the real estate market and steer summer rentals away from the Hamptons. No additional money had to be spent to actually enforce laws and no additional enforcement personnel were needed. In effect, enforcing the laws by giving tenants or landlords notice to cure a problem – waiting a reasonable time for those situations to be solved – and taking legal action in due course if the notices were ignored – was completely sidestepped. The rental market was severely and negatively impacted for years after this but Heaney had strengthened his voting base. Neither New Yorkers as tenants or property owners were ever a concern for him or the Town. The fact that there was no real legal process for the tenants or the landlords; the fact that the Town would not enforce its own codes through proper notification and follow-up; and, the fact that it was a case of making landlords, not law enforcement, responsible for the acts of tenants – was irrelevant to the Republican government. That has not changed.
The Town of Southampton discovered the fact that property owners could be made to be responsible for any act of a tenant or even the shortcomings of the government. Most of the investors or landlords who own rental properties (owned by New Yorkers) have no right to affect legislation or operate within the local power grid. Through property taxes, the Community Preservation Fund (which is currently being raided by the local politicians to balance the books), and the infusion of cash from a real estate generated economy – New York interests have been completely ignored even though that money supports the entire economy. It has been a license to steal and give nothing back.
In fact, it has emboldened these politicians to increase pressure and reduce the influence of New Yorkers and others who pay for the existence of the local government. But, the question became: how do we create a palatable political basis for this? How do we deflect rational criticism from New Yorkers who do not have the right to vote; how do we make decisions whereby they pay the taxes and police the tenants while we control the property?
The answer has been -- criminalize the landlord.
And, this bizarre twist of logic and the law has been extremely helpful in advancing the cause of the current anti-Latino policy – the popular local politicians’ response to the lack of a national immigration policy. It has been codified and buried in a new Rental Permit Law.
Skip Heaney, Linda Kabot and Pat Nuzzi advertised this housing ploy, calculated to create a local immigration policy, in Suffolk Life about two years ago when they were political running mates. The political campaign ads clearly explained to the voters that housing, the schools and employers would be the targets – through which they would get immigrants out of town.
The local press is hostage to the Republican Party (no cooperation, no advertising from businesses who are politically connected) and to the conservative voting base. Effectively, there is no independent media coverage. The government is free to create the news as it sees fit and it is free to lie to everyone.
Take the recent show that was broadly advertised by the Town in the local “media.”
A group of houses in the North Sea area of Southampton – a working-class location that was overbuilt – had been rented through management companies for the landlords. The management companies were completely responsible for the properties. Latinos occupied the new, spacious houses. In any other community, like Queens, where multi-family triplexes are legal, these would have been 3 large apartments in each house. But, Southampton has never permitted such properties in its code – whether they were new and safe or not. Affordable housing has always been the “big lie” in the Hamptons.
And, the law prevents landlords or brokers from discriminating against applicants based upon color, gender, race or national origin. Landlords are not the police. Although, the Town would now like to make them responsible for this function. It’s cheaper. And, fines bring in big money.
In this situation, the management companies rented the properties at various different times to individuals who portrayed themselves as families. The tenants themselves, recognizing the large spacious multi-bedroom floors in each new house, recognized its potential use. For people of modest means, the idea that new roomy apartments were somehow not legal defied logic in an area where there is a shortage of housing.
Over the last few years, several evictions took place when it became apparent that occupancy was not what was legally permitted despite the fact that each floor was spacious and very comfortable. In some cases it was discovered that basement areas were being used for living space or that unapproved, illegal construction was being done. Those tenants were asked to leave.
Landlords try to avoid Justice Court for evictions because the Southampton Town Justice Court judges only work one week per month on a rotational basis in Southampton Town. They make $60,000 per year for working less than 3 months a year. It is not uncommon for an attorney to have to wait for a month or two to get the assigned judge – back in court – if there is even one adjournment. That judge has to come back on rotation.
So, in a situation where there is a serious need to remove tenants who turn out to be NOT what they claim to be, there are few alternatives to legal action.
Of course, as landlords wait for the judges, the Town in its infinite wisdom can cite property owners for illegal conditions – while doing nothing to cooperate in removing the offenders. And, that is true whether the offending tenants are destroying the property or setting up an illegal rooming house. Code Enforcement has the luxury of sending notices to cure a problem and holding everyone responsible for their lack of oversight on a regular basis – even while the judges sit on their hands in any attempt to evict, or help a landlord’s management company solve a potentially dangerous situation.
Towards the end of last year, Code Enforcement decided to target these houses in North Sea because they fit the bill for the PR push to eliminate more Latinos, make the landlords responsible for their lack of oversight or enforcement of the laws on the books, and push the political agenda against property-owners by levying huge fines. It also was a good opportunity to reinforce the fact that multi-family housing, affordable housing, is not permitted. Unless, of course, you are local and have “auxiliary” apartments and – VOTE!
There were conditions that had to be remedied – and tenants were warned to rectify them. The tenants ignored these warnings and were evicted by the management company without the help of the court – completely legally.
The Town, however, having been made aware of the problems by neighbors who were less than thrilled with a rooming house -- had a perfect situation. New York landlords and Latinos in one happy PR opportunity. Here was a chance to show how the Town was concerned with tenant safety (especially for Latinos -- who they want out of the country) and set up a plan to criminalize property owners. Even better, they thought, perhaps they could even take the property.
Notices were sent by the Town to alert the management company about problems AFTER warrants were signed and executed in order to break into the properties. Apparently Judge DeMayo signs what is now the routine warrant-method of inspecting someone’s house. A letter requesting access to review possible violations might be the rule in any other Town. In Southampton, they don’t ask you if they can come in to your house at 5 a.m., they just break in, flash badges with guns drawn – and check for missing batteries in carbon monoxide detectors. A really big find is an extension cord. Oh, and by the way, they also take names and check for ZE PAPERZ.
Code Enforcement, police, immigration agents – all rolled into one – to check for smoke detector batteries. All to make sure the tenants are safe!
So, how stupid do they think we are? Are we the new “good Germans?”
No one claims that either the landlords or management were given any notice at all that they wanted to inspect the property.
Having learned about the overcrowding that was improperly occurring –– the landlords’ management company took affirmative actions.
Knowing that the Justice Court was slow and ineffectual, letters were sent to the tenants on the lease, management visited the houses to tell them they had to leave, and a real estate firm was hired to resolve the situation.
What you don’t do is simply force people with children out into the streets because while there is ample space it may not be part of the local codes as multi-family housing. Landlords, through management always have to follow the law. Towns and Code Enforcement don’t. They create the law and interpret it as they see fit.
Especially, in the Town of Southampton.
In this case they interpreted the law and then created the spin on what really happened.
After serving a warrant and conducting a search on the properties – all the while threatening the innocent occupants at 5 a.m. one morning, they went to work on management and landlords.
Paperwork accusing landlords of stacks of ostensible violations, many of which were building details approved by the Town when the builder obtained a certificate of occupancy. Stacks of “violations” were produced in court. They were produced long after the warrant-searches took place.
Then, there was the final coup de grace. A media show reminiscent of the Heaney event that occurred years ago was arranged. A circus was held which was intended to support all of the racism in disguise – as well as giving the Town support in utilizing their criminalizing of landlords-as-policy -- a shot in the arm.
One morning, a few weeks after the “searches” the Southampton Press arrived along with the online wannabe Hamptons.com representing the “media.”
Swarms of photographers, reporters, police, Code Enforcement, Town employees – all descended upon these “criminals” to handle the “eviction-by-intimidation” which was to be a show for voters and supporters of the Gestapo school of national immigration policy. They all were also trespassing, by the way.
But, a funny thing happened on the way to North Sea.
There was no one home. Not one person. Not a white person, not a child, not a Latino, no one. The houses were all totally vacant.
The management companies had arranged their own legal eviction that the courts or the Town had nothing to do with. Or, could not manage. After they became aware of the possible overcrowding – depending upon your view of affordable housing versus multi-family codes in this Towns. Safety violations are one thing. Overcrowding is a different thing. Is two people in each of 3 bedrooms overcrowding or an elitist view of the way everyone else should live?
In conjunction with the church, a nun by the name of Sister Briege who had the interests of these unfortunate immigrants at heart -- whose children are Americans – and who clean toilets and do landscaping for the swells in the Hamptons – resolved the situation. The management representing the landlords donated enough money, over ten thousand dollars, to their cause so that they could afford to move. They weren’t consigned to the streets or subjected to racism. They were treated as human beings and were provided with money to find alternative living circumstances. And, they willingly but reluctantly moved.
Even though these properties were being systematically destroyed by overcrowding which lined the pockets of a couple of their own compatriots, and even though they had caused the potentially dangerous circumstances that they were living in, they were still treated fairly.
After an investigation (not by the Town) it was learned that two Mexican nationals named Carlos and Serafin were unknowingly operating the houses as mini-hotels, but whether upwards of $50,000 per month was being collected by them -- as was being reported by the Town – is impossible to tell. Obviously, the Town Investigator, David Betts, did not bother to find out any of this. Police skills seem to dissipate when real work is needed.
And, the Town was not on mission to protect the landlords – OR the tenants. It was a PR mission.
What is very clear, however, is the fact that each of these $2 million dollar houses was being leased for $3500 and $4500 per month (less than they cost) -- to people who originally represented that they were a family, and then gradually imported more paying tenants were enriching the illegal operators. Since the cost of each house was in excess of $10,000 per month, both the landlords and the management companies were losing money, while the Town was benefiting from subsidized housing. The Town just didn’t want the tenants. They wanted to criminalize the landlords as part of their overall plan.
And, that plan is to deflect property owners away from obtaining the vote while furthering the racist policy by evicting Latinos from the Town of Southampton.
The damage to the property will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The media description of what happened, of course, was altogether another story.
Hamptons.com was clearly the most egregious. This online attempt at newsgathering was not their first failure. They have a reputation for getting the facts wrong.
While the reporter, Andrea Aurichio, a real estate agent-cum-investigative reporter, described the interior of the houses correctly, most of the rest of her piece was false. If she described the property from inside, she was trespassing. If she was given the information, she was not reporting.
She described the fact that:
“Southampton Town officials recently took the property owners to court
seeking an order compelling the landlords to evict a total of 70 tenants, including 20 children, from the four houses.”
Of course, that was fictitious. The Town had nothing to do with getting the tenants out, unless terrorizing them counts. No such action was taken by the Town to get the tenants out – except by breaking and entering in at 5 am and interrogating them. Wouldn’t that make you feel unwanted, if not totally pissed off?
In December, Code Enforcement flunkies broke into the houses with no prior notice to anyone and THEN filed notices of violations.
No order to evict was ever presented to anyone. Not to the tenants, not to the owners, not to management.
But, this little news clip did have the effect of making it look the Town did do SOMETHING.
The article goes on to interview the new board members Russo and Throne-Holst – Dan Russo is reported to take credit for working the whole thing out with the church to protect the tenants from those big, bad, unresponsive landlords who had not even been notified. But, what would he have worked out?
According to Hamptons.com Russo worked with the church to find them a place to live and Throne-Holst makes comments about protecting tenants and how the Town had to do what the Town had to do. Which was nothing but harass everyone.
Linda Kabot, at a Town hearing over this imbroglio, heard testimony from a few local people who complained that the problem had been going on for 3 years. Well, since they ALL LOOK ALIKE, clearly the neighbors did not know that the same people did not live there for 3 years.
Hamptons.com reported falsely and the Town Board members handed out misinformation. Was this lying? Convenient stupidity? Or, perhaps, it was an organized agenda?
In fact, what really happened was that a real estate company was hired to negotiate for the landlords, negotiate with Sister Briege, and negotiate directly with the tenants -- to donate the money to them for their safe exit and they were helped in securing new places to live. Is Russo claiming to have done this?
Dan Russo did nothing, the Town did nothing, and Throne-Holst, it is to be hoped – was merely duped into believing that somebody in the Town was doing something.
She was mistaken.
The reporter was simply incompetent. Not surprisingly, Hamptons.com refused to print comments to that effect on their website after being contacted. They did not respond to requests for an interview either.
The reporter bought the Town’s media play hook-line-and-sinker.
While they photographed some garbage that was left at one of the properties, she made no mention of the fact that a four-day clean-up had already been done prior to that by the management companies at a cost of several thousand dollars and that this was the remnants of the expensive job without any help from the Town. Of course, what remained was what was photographed.
What also was left out in the “news” was the fact that Sister Briege was interrogated by the Town – in an attempt to force her to give over the names of the tenants and where they had relocated to so that they could pursue them out of Town. Does that sound like their safety was of a primary concern? If he had arranged their safe relocation, wouldn’t Dan Russo know where they had moved to?
The reporter from Hamptons.com advertises her credentials as a former New York Times reporter – some 25 years ago – for lifestyle articles. We are reminded of Howell Raines’ demise and the firing of investigative reporter Jayson Blair at the Gray Lady, which occurred a few years ago. The similarities are glaring.
There was no fact checking by either the Southampton Press or Hamptons.com – none of the accusations were verified or reviewed for accuracy – and there was no attempt to contact anyone who might have shed some light on the true details. There was zero journalistic integrity or professionalism, just the following of marching orders from the Town.
The Southampton Press published the same content with a few different quotes but stated “The charges came just days after the Southampton Town Board ordered four houses on North Sea Road shut down after enforcement officers found health and safety code violations.”
Of course, that little report by Brian Bossetta is also false.
Only notices of violations were filed and served only after they broke in with warrants signed by the Justice Tom DeMayo anti-Latino machine.
This was managed by Town Hall. Joe Lombardo, the Town Attorney, in conjunction with Board Member Pat Nuzzi and Dan Russo, under the tutelage of Cheryl Kraft and her rubber gun squad, which handled the entire operation.
Linda Kabot, the new Supervisor, who’s aunt was the subject of one of these recent raids, took a back seat – but, allowed the Republican Party to plan it.
While Marcus Stinchi, the Republican Party Chairman, isn’t organized enough himself to plan this – having himself hired illegal immigrants to erect election signs for the party a few months ago – he has his hand on this in the background.
The name of this game is Targeting – Criminalizing – and Fines. Follow the money.
Anyone with remaining doubts about the primary motivation for
the Town’s recent push to check the safety of all of its housing need only consider some of the following facts:
Aside from the fact that that Heaney and Nuzzi advertised that they would be using housing safety as a method to enforce a local immigration policy, there is the unusual coincidence that only Latino tenants have been affected by the Code Enforcement break-ins a/k/a warrant searches authorized by Justice DeMayo.
We then have the additional curious matter that all local voters, EMS, Fire, Police and government personnel are exempt from having to pass any safety checks. Neither do they pay a fee for the new rental permits now required by anyone else for renting their properties or “illegal” apartments, nor are they targeted by impromptu inspections.
Can you imagine a retired Southampton cop with a rental apartment in his house being rousted at 5 a.m. by Town Code Enforcement for having a missing carbon monoxide alarm battery?
The ability to use the “safety” ploy to target political enemies, Latinos, and New Yorkers, is only in the beginning stages. It will get worse as the Town needs more money. Taxes are down, real estate is down, and foreclosures are up. In fact, The Town hopes to cash in with fines in order to bolster the waning budget. Even dipping into the Community Preservation Fund will not be enough.
If there was even the slightest doubt that Targeting and retaliation is what the safety issue is about consider the recent incident in Hampton Bays – which was NOT reported in the Southampton Press or on Hamptons.com.
A Code Enforcement officer who was drunk recently verbally abused a local woman in front of her house in Hampton Bays and he was screaming at her using derisive language about her national origin. You know, what the Town is claiming is not happening. She was not even a Latino.
The woman called the Town to complain about his abusive behavior and reported the incident, believing that she had rights.
The result: Code Enforcement visited her a few days later and her house was searched and numerous violations were issued – resulting in criminal summonses.
That’s Cheryl Kraft, Joe Lombardo, Michael Sendlenski, Chris Nuzzi, Dan Russo and David Betts and the Code Enforcement boys and girls – the new Storm Troopers. The jury is still out on Linda Kabot.
Latinos, Blacks, Jews, Gays, immigrants (legal or not) and New Yorkers -- beware. This is the new reality in the fabulous Hamptons. It’s not all Billy Joel, Christie Brinkley, Alec Baldwin, Seinfeld and other celebrities.
If the Town persists, under Cheryl Kraft and the new Town Board members, in trying to make landlords the enemy – and, unless they inspect EVERY house in the Town for violations – if they continue to criminalize landlords who merely make their property available for rent – they will all be hit by years of expensive litigation for selective enforcement and civil rights violations. The Town will be sued for the right to vote in local elections.
The local taxpayers will have to foot the bill for this irresponsible and unconstitutional behavior.
The Postscript to this little tale of the Town’s foray into racism and criminality is the fact that Joe Lombardo, the Town Attorney, weeks after the landlords evicted the tenants themselves – is attempting to take the property away from the owners with the aid of the court – to insure that no Latinos can ever occupy them again.
Even the King protected property rights in the Colonies.
Those rights were preserved in our Constitution.
This is America isn’t it?
Well, not quite. Welcome to Southampton.