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Southold Town issued five tickets to short-term renters so far

12/03/2015 12:00 PM |

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In the first month of the controversial short-term rental law’s existence, Southold Town issued five tickets to property owners who rented residences for fewer than 14 nights, including one house in Orient that allegedly had 25 guests and 15 cars out front for a pre-Thanksgiving celebration. 

The response to those violations will vary on a case-by-case basis, some as simple as an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal — essentially a warning threatening further punishment for a subsequent violation — and some as harsh as the full $8,000 fine, according to assistant town attorney Stephen Kiely.

“These aren’t murderers that we’re dealing with, these defendants,” he said. “But there are some that rise to the level of, for lack of a better term, slumlords, making money on the backs of their neighbors and detrimentally impacting their quality of life. So, there’s a sliding scale as to how we’re going to respond to a particular defendant.”

Beyond those five tickets, the town is formally investigating 10 other property owners for potential violation of the short-term rental law and examining “hundreds and hundreds” of further possible lawbreakers.

During this early phase, Mr. Kiely said the town is targeting the “most egregious” violators in an attempt to send a message and wrangle all other landlords into accordance with the law.

“Hopefully, that will cause deterrents and trickle down to the others so that they fall into line and comply,” he said. “The town by no means is taking a heavy-handed approach here.”

Many of those landlords had been identified before the law went into effect due to “a ton” of past complaints, so the town began its investigations with them and issued tickets if it observed any illicit behavior in the past month.

Most potentially problematic properties are discovered through a combination of tips and research on websites such as Airbnb and HomeAway, Mr. Kiely said — after all, any advertisement on those sites lists how short a stay is available, so it is easy to see when someone lists a property online for fewer than 14 nights.

“The very nature of the transient rental makes it easy to find them,” Mr. Kiely said.

The town also launched an online code violation complaint form in the first week of November to serve as another means of gathering information. Since then, Mr. Kiely said officials have received more than 15 complaints, though not all of them were about transient rentals.

That form was used, however, to report the Orient property where 25 tenants were staying for only two nights. On a recent Friday night, a neighbor submitted an online complaint, and the new part-time code enforcement officer happened to be on duty at the time and was able to investigate the residence that very night.

“We were able to see the 15 vehicles and able to interview a tenant of the house who said there were 25 people staying there,” Mr. Kiely said. “That’s just a great example of how the technology and code enforcement works … We would not have known but for the online complaint system.”

A tenant told the officer that all of the guests were staying in the Windward Road house from Friday night to Sunday afternoon for a “Friendsgiving,” as Mr. Kiely called it.

The house also had a number of other code violations and had “been a problem house for a while,” Mr. Kiely said. The property owner, Petros Kougentakis of Brooklyn, was issued four tickets on Nov. 16, one for violating the transient rental law and others for converting the basement into a residence without the proper permits.

Mr. Kougentakis could not be reached for comment, but Mr. Kiely said town officials have met with him.

“We have met with the owner and he’s made references that he’s no longer going to do it [transient rental] and that he’s going to submit the necessary paperwork to the building department for the basement conversion,” Mr. Kiely said.

Mr. Kiely said he hopes these early months during the less-busy offseason can help the town iron out the kinks in preparation for stronger code enforcement next year.

“A lot of these people say, ‘Well, I wouldn’t be able to afford this house and pay it off unless I rent it on a transient basis,’ ” he said. “Well, then you shouldn’t be buying it anyway.”

Photo Caption: The owner of this large house, located at the end of Windward Road in Orient, received a ticket for renting the property for only two nights. Town officials say 25 guests stayed at the house for a “Friends-giving” celebration. (Credit: Chris Lisinski)

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