Real Estate: Wrestling with short-term rentals

03/06/2015 5:00 PM |
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell (center) speaks during a panel event Feb. 26 hosted by the Long Island Board of Realtors at Greenport's Townsend Manor Inn. He's flanked by Riverhead Town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz (left) and Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski. (Credit: Rachel Young)

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell (center) speaks during a panel event Feb. 26 hosted by the Long Island Board of Realtors at Greenport’s Townsend Manor Inn. He’s flanked by Riverhead Town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz (left) and Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski. (Credit: Rachel Young)

For many North Fork residents, this winter’s proliferation of snow, ice and slush has made summer feel like a far-off, even illusory prospect. But local realtors say the area’s tourism season has already started — and they’re wondering how changing rental laws could affect the way they do their jobs.

To help clarify those regulations, the North Fork Chapter of the Long Island Board of Realtors hosted an event Feb. 26 featuring local politicians and insurance agents at Greenport’s Townsend Manor Inn. 

“We try very hard to make sure all of our members are informed,” said the group’s president-elect, Mary Alice Ruppert. “We need to be in the conversation.”

One of the most pertinent issues currently facing realtors, and the area at large, said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, is how to manage short-term rentals. They’ve become increasingly popular in the wake of websites like airbnb.com, which allow homeowners to rent out their properties for as little as one weekend.

“I’m getting a lot of pushback from the community, a lot of calls, a lot of concern about short-term rentals,” Mr. Russell told an audience of nearly 80 people. “The town is wrestling with this. We’re trying to figure out what’s fair.”

In addition to Mr. Russell, the event panel consisted of county Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), Riverhead town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz and Joe Stepnoski and Randy Morreale, both of The Neefus-Stype Agency in Aquebogue.

The discussion was moderated by Ms. Ruppert and LIBOR’s Mary Ellen Ellwood.

“A lot of people feel that this is converting homes into a commercial use,” Mr. Russell continued. “I’m also getting important guidance from others who say [short-term rentals] are good for the economy.”

In early February, the Greenport Village code committee opened a 90-day public comment period when they were unable to reach a consensus about how to manage short-term rentals. They hope to begin drafting legislation in April.

“What we’re weighing is the need for year-round rentals versus the demand for seasonal rentals based on the increasing popularity of Greenport as a tourist destination,” said village Trustee Julia Robins, who is also a realtor with Century 21 Albertson Realty in Greenport.

One realtor at the event asked panelists to specifically define “short-term.” Another asked if homeowners are required to obtain town permits for short-term rentals.

Under Riverhead Town code, Mr. Kozakiewicz said, “anything that’s 29 days or less is banned” and permits must be purchased if tenants are renting for a period of 30 days or more.

In Southold Town, Mr. Russell said, the definition of short-term depends on how town officials end up structuring the code. The town has no permitting process, he said.

“I think the IRS — and I’m not an expert on this — I think they have a 14-day threshold,” Mr. Russell said. “But the short-term rental is for us to decide. We’re being very thoughtful and deliberate. We’re not rushing because we understand there are good points on both sides of the issue.”

Following the panel, Ms. Ruppert said realtors “need to ask for a seat at the table” when it comes to discussing rental legislation with politicians.

“These kinds of meetings that bring in the local municipalities to speak to the people who are doing business here are so vital,” she said. “That really was the goal of today — to find out ‘What is Riverhead doing? What is Southold doing?’ ”

Mr. Krupski urged realtors to approach him with any questions about current or future regulations.

“Going forward, if there’s anything that anyone has any suggestions on, please feel free to come to me,” he said. “The law should work for everybody and there’s no reason we can’t try to accommodate you.”

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