Editorial: Do what’s right, not what’s easy

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Greenport landlord Robert Jarosak spoke out against the proposed rental law Monday.
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Greenport landlord Robert Jarosak spoke out against the proposed rental law last Monday.

Political observers, many of whom are born cynics, have expressed the opinion that the formula for longevity in public office in Southold Town is to do nothing.

That’s overstating it a bit, but not by a great deal. Another way of putting it: If you draw the anger of one of the town’s many organized constituencies — the agricultural community, for example — best not order any official letterhead for a new term.

Before its economic revival, a former village official suggested that Greenport’s two main industries were alcohol sales and rental housing. Today there’s far more to the downtown business area than bars, but Greenport arguably has the town’s highest concentration of non-owner-occupied apartments and houses. That is why the Village Board is stepping into treacherous political waters in pursuing legislation to regulate rental housing.

Good for them.

During the board’s two recent public hearings on the measure, several landlords stood up and shed crocodile tears about how hard the regulations would be on tenants. Some even stooped to playing the ethnic card in accusing the board of deliberately targeting the Hispanic population.

It’s not surprising that the only people speaking out against the code are landlords, because it’s all about money. It’s profitable to squeeze eight or 10 people into an apartment with space enough for only four or five. Why else would someone rail against a measure aimed at ensuring the safety and security of people who rent? The last thing some landlords want is for a village inspector to walk into an apartment and get an accurate picture of the living conditions there.

If everything is at it should be, what’s the issue?

As with any local ordinance, there’s always the possibility, remote or otherwise, of selective enforcement. Municipalities have been known to turn a blind eye to some violations while focusing on others for political or personal reasons. Ensuring even-handed treatment should be the foremost concern.

The village has an opportunity to take a progressive step before a fire or other disaster that claims a life forces the issue. It’s the opportunity to do what’s right, not what’s politically popular or safe.

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