32 in House, 18 Sleeping on Basement Floor

Town decries ‘dangerous conditions’
The East Hampton Town Police Department, along with the town’s Ordinance Enforcement Department, building inspectors, and fire marshals, executed a search warrant at this house on Railroad Avenue, off Abraham’s Path, just after 6 a.m. on Sunday. Christopher Walsh

The majority of the 32 people reported to be occupying a single-family house off Abraham’s Path in East Hampton when a search warrant was executed there on Sunday morning were out-of-towners working for local businesses, town officials said. Eighteen of them were sleeping on mattresses on the floor of a basement with no smoke or carbon monoxide detectors, according to the town.

The East Hampton Town Police Department, along with the town’s Ordinance Enforcement Department, building inspectors, and fire marshals, executed the warrant at 38 Railroad Avenue shortly after 6 a.m. on Sunday, according to a release issued by the town. The occupants of the house were unrelated.

The town code prohibits multifamily occupancy in single-family residences, as well as rental or occupancy of less than the entire residence. Language in the code also addresses overcrowding and excessive turnover. 

Additional code violations included a gasoline generator and storage tank in the basement. Use of the generator could have created lethal levels of carbon monoxide, police said.

“Overcrowded housing such as this not only places residents in dangerous conditions but poses a risk to public safety and the environment when septic systems are overtaxed, and diminishes the quality of life for others in neighborhoods designed for single-family residences,” Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said in the statement. “The town will continue to actively enforce our codes to ensure the safety of all our residents.”

The town identified the property’s owner as Evan Davis of Jamaica, Queens. Mr. Davis, who was not at the property at the time the search warrant was executed, will be given an appearance ticket once he has been located, according to a statement from Town Hall. Braham Elorda was the house’s manager, according to the town. He was issued an appearance ticket to appear in East Hampton Town Justice Court. 

The multiple code violations could result in fines totaling tens of thousands of dollars, according to the release. 

The occupants of the house told investigators that they paid Mr. Elorda between $100 and $150 per week in cash to live there. Some had just arrived, others had been in residence for longer.

The occupants were not charged with any violations, David Betts, the building inspector, said on Tuesday, but Mr. Elorda was advised that he is obliged to comply with code and remove them from the house. “They were dramatically overcrowded,” Mr. Betts said. 

Tina Piette, an attorney who is representing Mr. Davis, disputed the town’s account of the action. On Tuesday, she said that Mr. Betts and Kathleen Gomez, an ordinance inspector, knew that she represented Mr. Davis when they went to the premises unannounced on July 23 and asked Mr. Davis to sign a consent form to inspect the premises on the spot. She said that Mr. Davis declined, saying that he wanted to speak with Ms. Piette first, which he did the following morning. 

After speaking to her client on July 24, Ms. Piette said that she called Mr. Betts to schedule an inspection of the premises. Mr. Betts declined that proposal, she said, and told her to speak to code enforcement on the following Monday. The warrant was executed on Sunday. “It’s a shame,” she said. “I truly believe this could have been resolved in a different manner.” The action, she said, is a stark illustration of the town’s critical shortage of housing for its seasonal work force.

Asked where the tenants in the house were going to go, Ms. Piette said she did not know. “It’s not like they are going to leave in the middle of the summer and risk not getting their jobs back next year,” she said. “They are going to put their heads down somewhere else, I suppose.” 

Mr. Betts said in an email yesterday that he was “unable to comment on the actual investigative aspects in the case.” Ms. Gomez was unavailable for comment yesterday. 

Execution of the warrant followed an investigation into the property initiated by the town’s Ordinance Enforcement Department, according to the statement issued by the town. The investigation is continuing.