Editorial: Don’t make restrictive rental laws, enforce the code

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Anyone who’s paid attention to the short-term rental issue in Southold Town in the past year knows the number of people speaking for and against the proposed law is fairly even.

So when the Town Board proposed a seven-night minimum on short-term rentals, it seemed a reasonable compromise on a growing quality-of-life issue. When that minimum was revised to 14 nights, in part to capture multiple weekends, it began to become too restrictive.

Now the Village of Greenport is discussing a 30-night minimum.

A one-size-fits-all approach that creates a hardship for all short-term landlords, the vast majority of whom have no record of wrongdoing, appears too restrictive at 14 nights. It definitely should not be 30 nights.

At what point does it become more effective to enforce laws currently on the books than to create new ones that are overly restrictive and could adversely affect the tourism on which this region’s economy relies? And couldn’t local municipalities instead create and enforce a rental permitting process that would provide a mechanism for regulation?

No matter which direction our town and village take in the coming weeks, following through on code enforcement is the only way to truly address quality-of-life issues.

It’s fair to say, however, that both Southold Town and Greenport have spotty records when it comes to code enforcement, an area short on resources. Both municipalities also have a reputation for selectively enforcing the code.

At Tuesday’s hearing on short-term rentals, residents brought up Southold’s history with enforcing noise violations since its noise ordinance went into effect in 2011.

The Suffolk Times recently learned through Freedom of Information requests that in the four years since the noise ordinance was passed, nearly 1,200 noise complaints have been filed with the Southold Town Police Department. In the law’s first 15 months, 10 violations were issued. Not one has been issued in the nearly three years since. Of those 10 complaints, eight involved Vineyard 48. The other two were issued at a single residence in Cutchogue on the same day in July 2012.

Supervisor Scott Russell said the number of noise complaints isn’t indicative of the number of actual violations, noting that the reports were just allegations of noise violations. Many of those allegations, he said, were related to noise not covered under the current code, like lawn mowers and leaf blowers.

Mr. Russell said any violators of the town code were first asked to turn the noise down; most did. “The goal of the code is compliance,” he said.

That’s exactly why the Town Board should be careful not to approve a law that is too restrictive when it comes to short-term rentals. If the overall goal is to get people to comply with codes, then make sure the people who aren’t creating a problem in the first place are not overly burdened. Then go get the bad guys.

Photo caption: A search of short-term rental sites, like AirBnB.com here, shows hundreds of listings. (Credit: Airbnb.com)