Southold to consider 14-night minimum stay for short-term rentals

Members of the Southold Town code committee discuss a new minimum stay for short-term renters at its meeting Wednesday. (Credit: Paul Squire)
Members of the Southold Town code committee discuss a new minimum stay for short-term renters at its meeting Wednesday. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Southold Town residents wanting to rent out their homes to vacationers may soon have to book longer stays than expected to stay legal.

The Southold Town Board will now contemplate a short-term rental law that sets 14 nights as the minimum stay after its code committee altered the law’s draft during a Wednesday meeting.

The law had originally set the minimum stay at seven nights.

At the committee meeting, Town Board member Robert Ghosio said the one-week minimum  “doesn’t really accomplish a whole lot.

“It gives these people the opportunity to have weekend rentals every single week,” he said. “If we stay with seven nights, I don’t think [the law] has any bite.”

The proposed law applies only to residential homes being rented out— most of which are listed on home-sharing websites such as Airbnb and Home Away — and not to accessory apartments, hotels or beds-and-breakfasts. Those uses have their own regulations under the town code.

Fines for violators could range from $1,500 to $8,000, said assistant town attorney Stephen Kiely. If passed later this year, the law could go into effect around Thanksgiving.

For months, the Town Board has been debating how to handle short-term rentals, a hot-button issue in cities across the country and in Southold Town specifically. In June, more than dozens of residents crowded into Town Hall during a public hearing on the proposed law to share their varying opinions to the board.

Some feared a steady stream of changing renters will disrupt the character of local neighborhoods, while others argued such rentals are a key part of the area’s tourist economy.

“This thing [short-term renting] has hit like a tsunami and it’s going to keep rolling through,” said Southold resident Susan Larese during Wednesday’s meeting. “People are treating these homes as businesses, and it really is affecting the nature and the quality of our lives.”

Mr. Kiely said 65 percent of the comments he received from the public are in favor of a two-week minimum.

Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the town is trying to “balance out the economic benefits of these short-term rentals and at the same time address the community’s concerns.”

The town may choose to limit transient rentals to business districts, Mr. Kiely said.

“That’s where they belong, in those districts,” he said, “but if there’s a street with five houses in an [residential] district and they want to put one of these in, it’s not appropriate.”

The committee also discussed how to identify properties that are in violation of the proposed rules. Under the law, any homes listed on sites like Airbnb would be presumed to be short-term rentals. That provision of the code would allow the town to be “proactive” in its enforcement, Mr. Kiely said.

But that will have to wait. The town has only one code enforcement officer currently employed, though the Town Board will discuss adding a part-time officer at Tuesday’s meeting.

As a result, the law will be “complaint-driven at the outset, so the problem houses will be the ones caught up,” Mr. Kiely said.

The Town Board will discuss the amended law at its work session on Tuesday. 

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