Real Estate

Town considers short-term rental code; needs to define ‘short’

Members of the public ringed the Code Committee table at Wednesday night's meeting. The committee will move forward with a code change to address short-term rentals in the village.
Members of the public ringed the Code Committee table at Wednesday night’s meeting. The committee will move forward with a code change to address short-term rentals in the town.

The Southold Town Board seems satisfied with the basics of a proposed code change that would address short-term rentals in town, an issue that’s arisen with the proliferation of short-stay, person-to-person boarding sites like

All that remains before the new code can go before a public hearing is figuring out a number: how many days at minimum must short-term renters stay at a location for the deal to be considered legal.

At a packed code committee meeting Wednesday evening, assistant town attorney Stephen Kiely presented a rough draft of the legislation, which would define “transient rental properties” as  single- and two-family residences and townhouses that are up for rent.

A property would also be legally presumed to be a transient rental if the home appears on an online rental website.

That “presumption,” Mr. Kiely said, will make it easier and faster for the town’s code enforcement officer to cite homes that break the law. Without this code in place, the town currently has to take multiple steps — which include staking out the house and getting a search warrant — before moving forward with legal action, he said.

“It’s a long, lengthy process,” Mr. Kiely said. “By the time we get it resolved, the season’s over and the damage is already done.”

Under the new code, a homeowner presumed to be renting his or her home out could provide the town with evidence that they were complying with the code to avoid incorrect legal action, according to the code draft.

But Mr. Kiely said it’s up to the homeowners to fight the presumption.

“The onus is on them,” he said.

The major issue yet to be ironed out is the minimum limit for short-term rentals that the town would allow. The three Town Board members at Wednesday afternoon’s meeting — Supervisor Scott Russell and council members Jill Doherty, William Ruland and Jim Dinizio — narrowed down the timing to two choices: one week or two weeks.

Other local municipalities have minimum stays set for short-term rentals, though the limit varies. In Riverhead, a renter must sign on for a month for it to be legal (New York City has similar restrictions). In Southampton, the minimum is two weeks.

According to Mr. Russell, the Internal Revenue Service deems any stay more than one week a “business activity.”

Both Mr. Russell, Mr. Ruland and Mr. Dinizio supported a two-week minimum stay, while Ms. Doherty advocated for a one-week definition, saying it’d better help couples vacationing with their young children.

With two board members missing, the issue remained unresolved. Mr. Kiely said he’d speak to both absent members to get their take.

From there, the agreed-upon minimum would be added into the code and it would be scheduled for a public hearing in May.

Board members said that while this code change would be a first step, larger code issues — like taxes or rental permits — would likely later need to be addressed.

Mr. Ruland said the board would soon have to consider hiring more code enforcement officers to make sure the laws are being followed.

“We’re kinda going to head down a one-way street,” he said, adding that the proposed law will force the town to “make code enforcement a priority.”

Mr. Dinizio went even further, saying he wanted to make sure the code would be effectively enforced before adopting it.

“If we can’t enforce it, there’s no reason to have it,” he said.

At Tuesday night’s Town Board meeting, several residents showed to complain about transient renters and their effects on neighborhoods.

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