Southold Town Board weighs new short-term rental rules

Discussion at last Tuesday’s Southold Town Board work session focused largely on changes to town code and strategies to enforce code violations more strictly with regard to short-term rentals. 

Under current code, homeowners looking to rent out their properties must do so for a minimum of 14 days at a time. But in reality, this edict was seldom followed or enforced.

“What we were seeing was a lot of Airbnb owners were ignoring the rules,” Supervisor Scott Russell said. “They were taking people and renting for two, three days, every weekend. There was a lot of turnover. There were many that were complying with the rules, but so many more that weren’t.”

Proposed code changes include increasing the minimum number of days landlords are able to rent a property from 14 days to 30, requiring that all rental listings advertised in digital and print mediums include the property owner’s rental permit number, and more stringent penalties for code violations. 

“I want to increase fines … penalties for first offense for violation of the code would be anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000,” Mr. Russell said. “Second offense would result in the complete revocation of a rental permit for three years.”

Quick-turnover Airbnb rentals on the North Fork attract a steady stream of tourists who shop at local boutiques and mom-and-pop shops. For more than two decades, Lori Guyer has owned White Flower Farmhouse in Southold, which offers antique furniture and home decor. She depends on outsiders passing through, and said a longer short-term rental period could impact her business.

“The locals do not shop in my store,” she said. “There’s a handful of stylish people that are regulars that live out here, but the majority of the people that shop in the store are day trippers, people out here on vacation, people that come out [for] wine tasting, or wedding groups or people that see me on Instagram and take a trip. I’ve had people come from Germany, California, a lot of people from New York, Texas; they will message me and say ‘I’m coming for a special trip to your store.’ ”

On the other hand, Laurie Nigro, president of the North Fork Chamber of Commerce, said a clamp down on Airbnb properties could positively impact local bed and breakfasts and hotels.

“If you only want to come for the weekend, or you want to stay for a couple of days, those are the better options for people [such as hotels or inns],” she said.

While town attorney Paul DeChance is drafting changes to the code, Mr. Russell said the town has recently boosted efforts to enforce the current code. Six homeowners appeared in the town’s justice court last week to respond to 11 different tickets regarding short-term rentals in violation of the code.

The town’s struggle to enforce rental violations, coupled with the popularity and ease of rental sites such as Airbnb, have exacerbated another challenge the town is confronting: insufficient housing stock. More units sequestered for short-term rentals means fewer long-term rental opportunities for Southold residents and workers. According to AirDNA, which tracks and provides data analytics of Airbnb and VRBO rental listings by hamlet, more than 750 homes are listed on either site in Southold Town and the Village of Greenport.

“Potentially, maybe, we can get a few of these rentals back into the [longer term] rental market,” Councilwoman Sarah Nappa said. “I do hope that these new measures that we’re discussing will discourage people from doing these rentals illegally and maybe give them a second look at saying, ‘Maybe, instead of all this hassle, I should put my house up for a year-round rental instead.’ So, hopefully, we’ll get a few of those back.”

Mr. Russell said draft legislation regarding the changes to the code should be ready for the board’s next meeting on Wednesday, July 5. With the board’s approval, a public hearing may then be set to discuss the code changes.