Equal Time: Real issue with the short-term rental law

This is in response to last week’s Guest Spot by Abigail Field, “Two-week rental minimum is just too long.” 

The author starts off by suggesting that some on the Southold Town Board are trampling on the rights of private property owners by considering a 14-night minimum stay requirement for people who want to rent out their homes. This statement is only partially correct: Increasing the allowable eight-night requirement to 14 nights is a further restriction of private property rights, and it is for this reason that I personally oppose the 14-night requirement.

Our code currently permits homeowners to rent out their houses for eight nights or more without the homeowner being present on the premises. Transient rentals in residential zones have long been illegal in Southold Town, so I really can’t see how Ms. Field can say her clients’ property rights have been trampled when they never had the right to conduct their activity in the first place.

Our town has carefully considered the uses allowed in all of our zones and decided that short-term rentals of seven nights or less are better suited for commercial zones than residential zones. There is one exception, that is the bed-and-breakfast use that allows an owner to rent out a limited number of rooms in their home as long as they occupy the residence while they are conducting their business. This is an important fact that was left completely out of the Guest Spot.

Owner occupancy is an important part of the existing code because it encourages self-policing by making the owner of the house live with the guests they are bringing into the neighborhood. Most of the people I talk to worry about having a different set of strangers in their neighborhood every weekend. It is this anticipation that any one of these new “neighbors” could be that bad guest we all fear will be hard to live with week after week. Let’s face it, there are only so many weekends in a summer; ruining just one is a large percentage.

We must do a better job enforcing our existing code on transient rentals. I believe the code changes that we have been considering over the past few months would give the code enforcer some additional tools to bring the illegal transient rental owner into compliance. It would allow the code enforcer to go online and identify locations that appear to be renting rooms in violation of our code. He could then contact them and request that they comply. Additionally, we need to have a code enforcement officer available on weekends and at night to respond to complaints in a timely manner. Of course, this will cost money, but I believe it will be money well spent to ensure the integrity of our residential zones.

With respect to increasing the number of nights from seven to 14, I think this should be addressed in the master plan along with any consideration of a rental code. Going from seven to 14 nights is a big step, because our code has allowed rentals of seven or more night for so long. There are people in town who have read the code and set up their business plan to comply with what the town has allowed all these years. I think punishing these homeowners because we didn’t enforce our codes is simply not fair.

T1031_Dinizio_C.jpgThe author is a Southold Town councilman.