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Attorney says Greenport’s proposed short-term rental law could end up in court

As the Greenport Village Board prepares for yet another public hearing on its proposed law regulating short-term rentals, a number of letters opposing the measure were submitted last week.

One of them came from a lawyer who had represented clients who challenged Southold Town’s short-term rental law in 2016.

Attorney Salem Katsh said he is representing clients who live in Greenport and who have been short-term renting for many years.

“They are scrupulous in who they rent to, are excellent neighbors and no one has ever had reasonable complaints about any of their tenants,” Mr. Katsh wrote in a letter to the board.

The latest public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27.

One of his main arguments against the village proposal was also part of the previous challenge: that people who were offering short-term rentals before the enactment of new regulations are automatically permitted as “grandfathered” uses under a section of the village code dealing with uses that don’t conform to zoning but existed prior to the enactment of zoning.

The state Supreme Court ruled against the challenge to Southold’s law in 2017, saying that Southold’s code “prohibits any use not expressly permitted” and that short-term rentals have never been permitted.

Ms. Katsh has challenged that ruling in the state Appellate Division, and he said he’s confident he will win the appeal.

He said the proposed Greenport law could also end up in court.

Mr. Katsh says the zoning districts in the town code  “do no more than specify what physical structures are allowed on land zoned in that district. They have nothing to do with how the structure is subsequently used, including by whom or for how long it is occupied.”

Greenport officials made changes to the proposal following a July 26 hearing and didn’t get much opposition — until now.

“In the past week, we got 15 letters from people who own houses here saying this is going to hurt their investment,” Mayor George Hubbard Jr. said at last Thursday’s Village Board work session.

The village had a held a 90-minute public hearing on the proposal July 26, during which more people spoke in favor of the proposed law than against, although there were several who opposed it.

Greenport is one of the only municipalities on the East End that doesn’t specifically regulate short-term rentals.

In the proposed law, the village is defining a short-term rental as less than 14 days and a long-term rental as a period of at least one year.

As of Monday, the village had received 19 letters opposing the proposal.

“Short-term rentals provide the comfort of staying in a private home where you can host a large group of friends and family that would not be possible in a hotel or typical B&B,” wrote Zachary Russell of New York.

“I am so sad to hear that Greenport is considering getting rid of all non-owner-occupied short-term rentals of less than 14 days,” wrote Kaitlyn O’Hara of Cape May, N.J.

But village Trustee Doug Roberts said the proposal does not ban all STRs in Greenport, and said there has been a lot of misinformation about the plan.

The proposed law would limit short-term rentals of under 14 days, allowing them only in two-family homes that are either owner-occupied or occupied by a long-term tenant, someone renting for a year or more.

Village attorney Joe Prokop offered to answer questions about the STR law from the board at last Thursday’s Village Board meeting, but added, “Anything that might be the subject of litigation at any time, I caution you not to discuss, because this is a public meeting and I don’t want this meeting to become ‘Exhibit A’ to something in the future.”

Mr. Hubbard said that under the proposed law, an owner or long-term renter of a house could do a short-term rental up to twice a month.

Mr. Roberts asked if short-term rentals are not permitted in the village now.

Mr. Prokop said that under village zoning, if something is not specifically permitted, it’s not allowed.

“It’s not specifically prohibited,” Mr. Prokop said. “So the way short-term rentals would be prohibited, if we wanted to enforce that, is that we would have to take the position that it’s a commercial use of a property and therefore not a permitted use in a residential zone.”
Mr. Hubbard said that currently, “the code allows you to rent anything, at any time, so long as there was no restrictions on it other than getting a (rental) permit.

Trustee Julia Robins asked how many complaints they’ve had about short-term rentals in the past two years.

Village administrator Paul Pallas said they’ve had no specific complaints about short-term renters.

Ms. Robins said the proposed legislation is a “feel good” law, and she doesn’t feel it will accomplish much, because short-term rental owners can find other ways to advertise their properties that aren’t as easily detected on the internet.

Among the arguments made against short-term rentals at the July 26 hearing were that they tie up available housing stock in the village and eliminate potentially affordable homes; they constitute commercial use in a residential area; and they are not required to adhere to the same safety standards or to pay the same sales and occupancy taxes as hotels and bed-and-breakfasts.

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