After months of public passion on both sides of the issue, Southold Town adopted a controversial new zoning code amendment aimed at curbing short-term rentals in a 4-1 vote Tuesday evening.
The code change, which will go into effect 60 days after it is filed with the state, makes it a violation of town code to rent a residential property for fewer than 14 nights in a row.
Before Tuesday’s vote, numerous supporters of more strict rules thanked the board for their action, a change in mood from the second public hearing two weeks ago, at which many supporters of short-term rentals, through websites such as AirBNB, pleaded their case.
The town board also agreed Tuesday night to create a part-time code enforcement position for an officer who will be charged with enforcing the new section of the code.
Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the officer, whose starting salary will be just over $27 per hour, will work nights and weekends to respond to complaints, and the town will set up a hotline and a link on the town website where people can register complaints about excessive turnover of rentals in their neighborhoods.
The penalty for violating the new code change will be the same as other zoning violations, up to $5,000 per occurrence, said Town Attorney William Duffy.
Joseph Marchese, who lives on Sound Avenue in Peconic, said before the vote that it’s only a matter of time, if the town did not pass the code change, before his entire street becomes like a Motel Six.
He pointed out that, in one house on his street, “couples go in. Couples go out. In comes the cleaning lady, and two hours later, she leaves, and new couples come in.”
Also on that street, he says, lives renowned sculptor Robert Longo, whom Mr. Marchese said was given trouble by the town when he tried to build an addition on his house.
Then, he said, the house next door to Mr. Longo was sold to a guy named Michael from Brooklyn, who “gets a variance to put up a three-story structure, blocking not only Robert Longo’s solar panels but his view of the water.
Mr. Marchese said he’s seen that new house advertised on the internet as a house that sleeps 12 and rents for $7,000 per week.
“So what is he going to do? He’s going to sell it,” he said of Mr. Longo. “Then we’ll have three Motel Sixes.”
“I’m being taken advantage of, and I don’t like it,” he said.
Attorney Salem Katch, who lives in Orient, said he found the attitude of people opposed to short-term rentals distressing.
“It’s not about money it’s about anger,” he said of the hostility against people who rent their homes. “People that are angry are expressing it against strangers and immigrants. They’re angry and you’re giving in to it. Good lawyers will find ways around this law.”
“If you listened to the hearings that have been held on this subject, you’re going to hear anger, conspiracy theories about beach violations and people from Brooklyn, raw xenophobia,” he added. “You want to say it’s not a witch hunt. It’s a witch hunt. Code words are used to bury a true motive.”
Mike Cooper, a man in his early 30s who rents a house in Southold and lived on the North Fork his whole life, said it’s become harder and harder to find a place to rent on the North Fork.
“We’ve really been squeezed these past five years,” he said. “A lot of us have to commute outside of the community to work. We do make sacrifices to stay out here.”
He said he recently found 74 two-bedroom properties for rent on Vacation Rental By Owner for a maximum of $400 per night. When he tried to search on Multiple Listing Service for a year-round rental on the North Fork, he found just 10 properties, two of which were priced above $3,000 per month.
“You can’t argue with the fact that there’s a lack of year round rentals that people who live here need,” he said.
Mr. Russell, the town supervisor, said he’s spoken to many people on both sides of the issue, and many who rent their houses short-term do care about the community, while many who are opposed to short-term rentals “are as worldly and urbane as everybody else.”
“We’re not talking about bad guys. We’re talking about fundamental land use issues,” he said. “A registry’s not going to get around the basic question. The more fundamental question is whether they should be allowed to exist, not whether we’re going to control them.”
Mr. Russell and Councilmen Bob Ghosio, Jim Dinizio and Bill Ruland voted for the code amendment. Councilwoman Jill Doherty voted against it. Fishers Island Councilwoman Louisa Evans had to take a boat back to Fishers Island and missed the vote.