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At packed hearing, Greenport residents have say on rental rules

07/29/2016 11:20 AM |

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Before Thursday night’s public hearing on new regulations for short-term rentals in Greenport Village, Mayor George Hubbard said the specifics of the legislation would be changed.

What he and the Village Board really wanted to hear, he said, was what residents thought should be part of a “true rental law” for the village.

And Greenport residents and property owners delivered.

During the 90-minute hearing, people packed into the Greenport firehouse and shared what they thought should be included in the law.

A few common themes came up throughout the night: residents largely supported a requirement for permits for rental units and stressed that safety of renters and that preservation of neighbors’ quality of life should be the highest priorities.

A draft provided for village residents to discuss included a cap that limited short-term rentals to 20 percent of overall rentals in the village and did not include a minimum-night-stay requirement.

“I think we need strict standards,” said Jane Williams, adding that it was “important that we keep the quality of our neighborhoods.” Ms. Williams argued in favor of a $500 fee for rental units that came with a checklist for landlords to fill out.

Chris Balzaretti, who recently bought and renovated a home on Wiggins Street as an “investment property,” said he has renters in his home, but would have reconsidered buying in the area if harsh restrictions were in place.

“If there was a short-term rental law in place, I definitely would have never bought that property,” he said. Mr. Balzaretti said his renters are looking for lodging because there aren’t many open hotel options in the area.

He supported a permit system for short-term rental properties, urging the board not to “kill it off completely.”

John Kramer, who has both short-term and long-term renters at his properties, said the village could use the fees from a permit to fund code enforcers or inspectors to confirm the rental units are up to code.

Mr. Kramer said the village could use the permits as a database to go after “bad actors.” He claimed that a stipulation for landlords to remain in the homes wasn’t necessary since the Village Board wants to stop bad behavior.

“Being owner-occupied doesn’t make any difference,” he said. “You’re either a good landlord or a bad landlord.” Mr. Kramer also said short-term renters provide economic benefits to the village by eating out at local restaurants and shopping at nearby stores.

But others in the audience pushed back against short-term landlords, saying they feared for their safety.

Jean Cooper addresses the crowd while claiming that 30 homeowners were committing mortgage fraud at Thursday's Greenport Village Board meeting. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Jean Cooper addresses the crowd while claiming that 30 homeowners were committing mortgage fraud at Thursday’s Greenport Village Board meeting. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Jean Cooper, a former Village Board member, made the most impassioned argument against short-term rentals by claiming that at least 30 homeowners in the area were committing mortgage fraud by renting their homes.

Often seeming to speak to the audience directly, Ms. Cooper said those who received mortgages through federal agencies Fannie Mae or Freddy Mac can’t rent if they claimed the house would be a second-home.

The village must check titles of Greenport homes before allowing any rentals, she said.

Otherwise, the village would be “complicit with mortgage fraud,” she said. “That is not hysterics.”

Ms. Cooper also said she was concerned Greenport was being infiltrated by out-of-towners who were changing the close-knit character of the community.

“I don’t even know the people who are in the neighborhood now,” she said. Landlords who bought homes to rent, she said, shouldn’t have invested in the area.

For those like Mr. Balzaretti, Ms. Cooper had advice: “Sell it,” she said. “Don’t burden our community with strangers on a regular basis.”

That comment drew an immediate response from Pat Mundus, a former Planning Board member who rents a room in her home.

“There are strangers everywhere, in every neighborhood, every street, everywhere in the village and it’s nothing to be afraid of,” she said to scattered applause.

Some, like outspoken Greenport resident William Swiskey, questioned why the Village Board was trying to regulate short-term rentals within the preexisting rental rules, which were created long before online rental services like Airbnb existed.

“I think you’re trying to morph something into your regular rental law that won’t fit,” he said. “There are just so many loose ends here.”

Chatty Allen of Fifth Avenue said the village needs to cut down on overcrowding. She agreed that regulations should be focused on getting rental properties up to code.

“To me right now, short term [or] long term? … Every building or home needs to have some kind of rental permit,” she said.

At the end of the meeting, Mr. Hubbard thanked the crowd for their opinions, saying the residents gave valuable input missing from the village’s previous code committee meetings.

“Instead of six people in a room, we wanted to hear from everybody and hear your input,” he said. “Now we need to get to work.”

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Photo credit: Paul Squire 

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