Southolders Debate Online Short-Term Rentals

Vacation Rental By Owner's Southold rental listings.
Vacation Rental By Owner’s Southold rental listings.

Southolders seemed of a mixed mind on Tuesday, March 24, when a large group of people approached the town board on the issue of short-term rentals in their neighborhoods.

While many said they’d like to see a stop to the practice, others said they find websites such as Airbnb to be a useful tool to take full advantage of the houses in which they live.

Lori Hollander of Greenport said she believes speculators are buying houses in Southold Town because towns on the South Fork have instituted more stringent limitations on short-term rentals.

“There are tools within our code to remedy the threat of this problem,” she said. Ms. Hollander recently looked over the websites Vacation Rental by Owner and HomeAway and found about 300 homes in Southold Town on each site.

Mike Griffin of East Marion said Southampton had taken in $94,000 in fines in one month due to illegal short-term rentals, which he said was more than enough money to pay for the work of two code enforcement officers in Southold.

Miriam Bissu, who lives at Orient by the Sea and serves on the property owners’ association’s board of directors, said one of her neighbors appears to be renting their house on a daily basis.

“There are parties all times, days or nights, with unruly groups of what appear to be unrelated adults partying,” she said, adding that the people who own the house and visit “do not subscribe to same interests, values or lifestyles” as the people who reside full-time in the community.

Mary Beth Edmonds of Mattituck has been renting rooms in her house on Airbnb, after she and her husband, Tom Edmonds, began using the service when traveling abroad.

“It’s the way we prefer to travel,” she said. “When you stay in a home with a family, you get a unique perspective. We decided to do it ourselves.”

“We’re working professionals. We have a lovely home that we cherish,” she said. “We regulate who comes to our house. We are there in attendance.”

Anne Murray of East Marion said she believes the town should take action soon.

“It may already be too late. A lot of homes are already rented for most of the summer,” she said. “Rentals to more than five unrelated people are negatively impacting our quality of life. Party houses will exist in every hamlet. I think they already do. I have no problem with the woman who came before me. I have a problem with speculators.”

Cutchogue attorney Abigail Field appeared on behalf of a dozen homeowners who rent their houses on Vacation Rental by Owner. She said many of her clients are out of town but would like to have a chance to address the board before the law is finalized.

“They’re eager to give a face to the responsible slice of property owners,” she said. “Not everyone who does this is a speculator looking to extract wealth by destroying the community.”

Ms. Field said she surveyed many people who stayed in her clients’ homes, and said most of them visit several high-end restaurants during their stay and spend money at farm stands and artisan shops. She added that many of the people who rent the houses have children or pets and are more comfortable staying in a house than a hotel.

Greenporter Hotel owner Deborah Pitareno wasn’t satisfied with that argument. She pointed out that, as the owner of a hotel, she needs to have her hotel license renewed each year, she is subject to regular, unannounced Suffolk County Health Department inspections, she collects hotel taxes and she is limited from building more rooms because of parking restrictions.

“The list goes on and on,” she said. “What bothers me as a business owner is this is not a level playing field.”

Ms. Pitareno added that she often turns down requests for after-hours parties from wedding parties who stay at her hotel, after which her clients often just rent a house in the area.

“If I surrender my hotel license, I live at the Greenporter — then I can rent out rooms, then I can have after-parties, and I don’t have to pay taxes,” she said, adding that this country was founded by people who didn’t want taxation without representation.

“Now we have representation without taxation. That’s not fair,” she said.

Tom Edmonds of Mattituck said that when he and his wife, Mary Beth, first listed their house on Airbnb, they “were booked immediately through the winter.”

He said that most of his guests are from Europe and Brooklyn, and half of them arrive in town via public transportation. Most, he said, stay for a few nights and eat out while they’re in town.

“We’re providing the right kind of visitors, who stay for a long time and enable working people to survive here year round,” he said.

Town Councilman Jim Dinizio told Mr. Edmonds he could legally run a bed and breakfast in his house.

“You could go to town to get a permit to do exactly what you’re doing,” he said. “We actually encourage that.”

The town board is currently hashing out a draft of a short-term rental law, which they discussed extensively at a code committee meeting March 25, during which board members debated what length of stay is considered short-term.

The board plans to take up the draft again at their next work session April 7.
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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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