Residents at odds with short-term rentals in Southold Town

Residents asked the Southold Town Board Tuesday night to curb short-term rentals. (Credit: Tim Gannon)
Residents asked the Southold Town Board Tuesday night to curb short-term rentals. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

A number of residents asked the Southold Town Board Tuesday to enact new regulations to curb short-term rentals.

The short-term rentals are gaining an unfair advantage on hotels and bed-and-breakfasts’, which must pay commercial taxes, obtain permits from the town and be subjected to regular inspections, residents said.

“The quality of life for residents of the North Fork is being increasingly affected by an unregulated short-term rental market,” said Lori Hollander of Southold. “People who’ve bought their homes in residential neighborhoods can now find themselves living next to an unregulated, unsupervised and unlicensed property functioning as a commercial business.”

She said speculators are buying lower priced homes to be used as rentals, and in the process, they are depleting the area’s supply of affordable housing.

Residents say the homes are advertised on websites like airbnb, Home Away and VRBO.

Ms. Hollander said there are about 300 rentals in Southold Town advertised on both VRBO and Home Away.

Mike Griffin of East Marion said that while B&Bs are highly regulated and require the owner to live there, obtain a license and insurance and pay commercial taxes to the town, the short-term rentals are not subject to those requirements.

“The proliferation of party houses will only degrade our neighborhoods and change a very beautiful place,” he said.

The towns of Southampton, East Hampton and Riverhead require homeowners to obtain rental permits from the town in order to rent their houses.

Some residents are urging Southold to do likewise, and board members say they have been discussing the idea and planned to do so at a code committee meeting Wednesday.

Miriam Bissu of Orient said that some of her neighbors have recently been renting their properties for one or two weeks, or weekends, at a time.

“There have been parties at all times of the day and night with loud music,” she said. “Unruly groups or what appear to be unrelated adults have rented homes for the sole purpose of partying all weekend.”

Some of the people renting homes are second home-owners who find they can no longer afford them, she said, adding that this brings down property values of neighbors.

Marybeth and Tom Edmonds of Mattituck say they rented their property on airbnb last fall and feel it helps the community and supports the local economy.

“We regulate who comes to our house,” Ms. Edmonds said. “We are there, in attendance, and we offer them local North Fork treats, like North Fork Potato Chips and Catapano’s cheese, and we send them out in search of North Fork treasures, like the carousel, the observatory and all the restaurants.”

She said they support regulations, “but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Mr. Edmonds said they also live in their home themselves when they rent it.

Councilman Jim Dinizio said that what the Edmondses are doing is actually a B&B, which Southold allows and encourages, although it requires a permit from the town.

Attorney Abigail Field said she represents about a dozen Southold Town homeowners who do short-term rentals of their properties through VRBO.

“They use their homes part of the year themselves, and generally hope to retire here,” she said.  “They love their homes and Southold, which is why they carefully screen their renters and they support responsible regulation of short-term rentals.”

She said she did a survey in which short-term rental owners polled their former tenants, with 91 people responding. It found that 57 percent of the rentals were for one weekend, and 33 percent for one week. Two-thirds of the respondents said they would only come back if a short-term rental were available, she said.

The surveyed groups spend an average of $1,850 in town during their stay, Ms. Field said.

Anne Murray of East Marion urged the Town Board to take action quickly, because some of the homes are already rented for the summer.

“These homes are negatively impacting our quality of life,” she said. “Unless the town takes action, party houses will exist in every hamlet.”

Ms. Field said most of the short-term lease houses are “high end” properties, and have no impact on affordable housing.

Supervisor Scott Russell said the town code committee, which is the Town Board, plans to discuss prospective legislation on short term rentals at its 4:30 p.m. meeting Wednesday in the town annex.

“I think we recognize we need to act,” Mr. Russell said. “We certainly would like to act as expeditiously as we can, but that conflicts with out intent to be deliberate and thoughtful in doing it.”

Mr. Dinizio believes most residents are opposed to short-term rentals.

“To me, it’s not a question of whether you want to make money,” he said. “It has to do with residents. It has to do with people’s expectations of their neighborhoods.”

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