Living Arrangements: Rental Registry Might Create Opportunity for Art Studio Painters

Rental Registry cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas
Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

Over almost unanimous objection from the general public, East Hampton Town established a “rental registry” in December. Any person or corporation that owns a private dwelling in the town must, by May 1, register to be included in the rental registry. There is a small fee involved, which should raise enough money to hire the necessary bureaucrats to operate the registry. And the idea is that when you rent a part of your house out to somebody, or your whole house while you go away somewhere cheaper, the town will know what is going on.

This activity has been going on for some time now, unregulated. It takes place because taxes are so high and real estate prices so wild that normal people cannot afford to live here anymore. Nevertheless they love it here and want to stay. Renting your house out for a month or so in the summer makes it possible.

There’s another activity going on here that this will also regulate. That is the activity of immigrant families piling into one-family houses and living there with their uncles and aunts and nephews by partitioning or curtaining off sections of bedrooms. Everybody knows this is going on. Yet our hearts go out to these people because we are all from immigrant families, at one time or another, so we all did that. The town has historically looked the other way.

The new law has clear parameters. Applicants have to indicate the number of bedrooms and the square footage of each bedroom in the house, the length of the tenancy and the number of tenants (if known.) They also have to fill out a completed and notarized Rental Property Inspection Checklist and present that with their application.

At the present time, there is no tax on the tenants or the landlords who join the registry. But there are penalties for not joining the registry. It is possible that an inspector can come in to investigate the property. Things such as more than four cars in a driveway, or separate electric meters, or gas meters, can trigger such an investigation as can a complaint from a neighbor that strange people seem to be in abundance in the single-family house next door. The penalties include fines ranging from $150 to up to $1,500 or imprisonment for a period not to exceed 15 days, or both. There is also a reduction in the sentence, even a dismissal of the violation, if a defendant cooperates or assists the investigation and is moving to correct the violations.

Nevertheless, the Town, having created this registry over the objections of its taxpayers, says publicly that though joining the registry is obligatory, there will be no money set aside for inspectors to come in, so not to worry. They won’t. Yet.

There are other things in this nine-page new section of the East Hampton Town Zoning Code, #199, but they are pretty boring. Let us just say they have covered everything.

This does remind me of another section of the zoning code involving housing passed by East Hampton Town, #255. That happened 28 years ago.

As you may know, the community of Springs in East Hampton became the very epicenter of the art world after World War II. Earlier, it had been Paris. And then the war came and it became New York City. Then, after that war, the art world fell in love with Abstract Expressionism and discovered that living year-round in the community of Springs, East Hampton were the great majority of the celebrated painters and artists of that field. Specifically, they were, among many others, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Klein, Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottleib, Hans Hofmann and Max Ernst.

Most of these painters worked in small art studios separated by a short walk from a main house wherein their wives and families lived. It was an exciting time to be living in Springs. Painters still live here today, some of them Abstract Expressionists, but the sizzle seems to have gone out of the attraction of Springs. Probably because of the artist’s studio zoning requirements.

This measure was intended to stop single-family homeowners from using artist studios as anything other than artist studios. For example, a place where guests might sleep, or, God forbid, a household for a second family, something that would hop the property into the multi-family category, which was strictly forbidden. This new zoning requirement was very specific about what could go on in an art studio. Painting could go on. Sculpting could go on. But nobody could sleep there. And nobody could cook food or have a bathroom there.

Amazing. Fact is, if a bathroom were built in an artist’s studio because a painter aged and needed to go more often, inspectors were ordered to have it torn out. Needless to say, this did discourage a lot of fine Abstract Expressionist painters.

A few years after the law was passed, wishing to build an art studio on my property but wanting it to have its own bathroom, I went to the trouble of having it be a contiguous part of the house by building an enclosed six-foot-wide, 15-foot-long passageway between my house and the new studio. This passageway is, today, an exercise hallway. Good thing I made it as wide as I did.

I bring this all up because I think the new section of code, #199, might inadvertently give the sufferers of #255 the ability to circumvent the law. I note the part of #255 that does that IN BOLD. See what you think.

The Artist’s Studio shall not contain more than one story, which may be situated above a garage or other conforming accessory structure. It must not occupy an area more than 5% of the area of the lot or 2,500 square feet whichever is less.

(A permit for an Artist Studio) will be issued once an inspector reviews and accepts an application filed by the individual, which shall enable the Town Board to evaluate the applicant’s degree of commitment to his/her fine art form which is professional in nature, establishes both his/her serious, consistent commitment to the arts.…Hobbyists and others for whom fine arts is not their primary professional work are generally ineligible. The following information must be included:

1. A description of the applicant’s art form

2. A professional fine arts résumé pertinent to the applicant’s work which may include educational background, professional training, public exhibitions, critical reviews, grants
and awards.

3. Documentation appropriate to the applicant’s particular art form, which should reflect a body of work, which may include but is not limited to photographs of his/her work, exhibition announcements and catalogue reviews.

4. Three letters of reference attesting to the artistic nature of the applicant’s work.

The applicant, by his application, agrees to an annual inspection to determine that the art studio is still an art studio. And if at the request of the artist, the Town Board may permit a studio use to remain vacant for more than six months upon finding of extenuating circumstances; based upon information attested to by the approved artist.


I rest my case.

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