Southold Divided on Short-Term Rentals

AirBNB Southold
airbnb’s Southold rentals this week.

Few issues have recently riled up the citizenry of Southold as much as internet-based rental services, but unlike with many social issues in this bucolic town, no side of the issue seems to have a clear mandate in favor of their side.

Southold Town held its first public hearing on its first draft of a new law to regulate short-term rentals Tuesday afternoon. If adopted, it would prohibit homeowners from renting out their houses for more than seven consecutive nights.

But after more than two hours of public testimony for and against the rentals, and after reading off the names of 45 people who’ve written letters that had made it into the public record as of Tuesday afternoon (more were received at town hall later that day), the board agreed to close the public hearing and table a vote on the proposed changes.

Opponents of short-term rentals, many of whom have been enduring loud weekend party houses in their neighborhoods, have been begging the town board for nearly a year to enact regulations, but well into their efforts, may people who do rent their houses short-term online have begun coming forward, painting a portrait of themselves as responsible landlords whose business is being hampered by a few bad apples.

John Kramer of Greenport is one such landlord, who described some of his short-term renters as the nicest, most accomplished and professional people to whom he’s rented.

“I wish my kids would marry some of them,” he said, adding that he believes Southold should adapt to the sharing economy.

“I can rent a chicken! I can share food and I can share money,” he said. “This isn’t going away. If there’s an asset, there’s an app to share it…. This is the new economy.”

Maryann Fleischman said she converted her basement to “a really nice apartment” and she’s met a lot of really nice people on airbnb.

“They’re not going to be here for seven nights,” she said. “I’m going to miss out on paying my taxes, once again.”

Lori Hollander, who lives outside of the Greenport Village boundaries (this law wouldn’t affect homeowners in Greenport Village) said she believes the law doesn’t go far enough in addressing short-term rentals, because the frequency of turnover won’t change if weekend renters are just forced to book seven consecutive days (which include just one weekend). She suggested the board change the regulation to two times a year for 14 days.

Peter Terranova of Peconic said he believes anyone renting their home on a short-term basis should pay hotel and sales taxes.

“If I wish to run an ice cream parlor out of my home, is that ok too?” he asked, adding that one of the houses in his neighborhood that is rented short-term had seven cars parked outside all last weekend.

“We have more restrictions on yard sales than on rentals,” he said.

Miriam Bissu, who lives in Orient By the Sea, said tenants of short-term rentals in her neighborhood trespass on the community association’s picnic area in order to get to the beach, in violation of the community association’s bylaws.

Attorney Abigail Field of Cutchogue said she represents several responsible landlords who rent their houses short-term.

She said that many people who own second homes on the North Fork simply allow their friends to use their houses, which would not address the concerns of community members who don’t like seeing new strangers in their neighborhood each week. She then read several testimonials from landlords and tenants about how their arrangement helped them both enjoy the peace and quiet of their homes.

“It’s very important for the board and community to get a sense for who some of these people are. There’s a perception they’re investors and people who have no ties to the community,” she said. “I’m a mom in Cutchogue. I’m invested in this community and I’m not interested in wrecking this community, period.”

Diane Ravitch of Southold said she doesn’t believe it’s right for her neighbors to use their homes as commercial properties. She added that the city of Santa Monica, Calif., recently banned airbnb and any form of short-term rental if the owner of the property wasn’t present during the rental.

Vivian Eyre of Southold said she pays a property manager to vet people who want to rent her house when she’s not there. She added that many renters are creative people who become so enamored with the North Fork that they eventually become homeowners here.

“There are many who volunteer in our community who were once short-term summer renters — renters who were drawn here by the awe that the North Fork’s beauty inspires,” she said. “Awe is a collective emotion which binds us to others and motivates us to act in collaborative ways.”

Caroline Greer of Greenport thought Ms. Eyre’s comments were off-topic.

“This is about defining the difference between residential and commercial and aggregate nights,” she said. “If it’s for rent on the calendar all year long, it’s a business.”

Ted Voyle of Anderson Road in Southold said he’s been dealing with absentee neighbors who constantly rent out their house.

“I’m sure occupancy taxes are not collected. It’s a travesty. It’s totally diminished my quality of life,” he said.

Judith Ullman lives in Brooklyn, but she owns a small cabin in Southold Town, which she bought knowing she couldn’t afford it unless she rented it out. She said she hopes to one day retire on the North Fork.

“You’ve got landlords who stink and youve got landlords like us who are invested and responsible,” she said. “We will pay whatever taxes we need to accommodate this kind of thing.”

Suzette Reiss of Orient, who rents a cottage on her property, said she’d had a different problem last summer. Her tenants became very upset when her neighbors, who own their house, threw a loud party while the tenants were here to enjoy the property.

“They were upset. They were expecting a quiet serene thing,” she said. “You may have loud neighbors who own as well. I don’t think having people from far away necessarily means you will be having issues.”

Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the board plans to weigh all the public comment they’ve received before making a decision on how to proceed.

“Like Solomon, we’ve produced a result that absolutely pleases no one,” he said.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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