Greenport homeowners react to proposed minimum 30-day rental stay

More than a dozen Greenport homeowners who earn extra income by intermittently renting all or parts of their properties turned out at a public hearing last week to oppose a new proposal that would restrict short-term rentals to a minimum of 30 days.

Village Mayor Kevin Stuessi said at the start of the meeting that the board of trustees would merely listen, rather than interact with community members, but noted the proposed change is warranted.

“As many of you know, it’s been problematic dealing with enforcement of existing laws, as we’ve seen rapid changes in the increased desire for people who own houses to create short-term rentals — and people also taking advantage of that.”

Mr. Stuessi went on to say that the meeting “is about listening to everybody that’s here — our board will not be interacting and going back and forth” with residents. He said that this was “the first of what will be at least a couple of different public hearings on this subject” — with the next one scheduled for Wednesday, June 5, at 6 p.m. at the village schoolhouse.

As with many East End towns, the village faces nearly insurmountable challenges to creating stable workforce housing. Greenport’s traditional long-term rental market has been decimated in recent years by AirBnB and soaring home purchase prices. Last year, the village contracted with a software firm that uses artificial intelligence to monitor and crack down on illegal short-term rentals. There is little open space — or available funds — to build new housing in the one square mile village. The median household income in Greenport is $66,655, according to 2020 census figures, compared to $96,792 in the surrounding town of Southold. Village officials have said that they can’t attract rental code enforcement officers with the salaries they are able to offer.

At the first Vision for Greenport community meeting in January, Mr. Stuessi urged residents to come together to find solutions to the affordable housing crisis.

“The biggest thing we need to do is to engage the community, have discussions, educate, learn, talk about things,” he said, ”— and then update our codes.”

Most who spoke in opposition to the proposed code change said they were longtime, law-abiding, responsible landlords and felt they were being penalized for the actions of a few renegades.

“We have well over 100 reviews,” said Jane Ratsey Williams. “We’ve never had an issue from a neighbor. We have significant parking on property. And as many know, I am very much into historic homes. This house was [built in] approximately 1883-85. We’ve restored the gardens, replaced the fence, the interiors. It’s a beautiful property and I welcome to give anyone a tour of it. I appreciate all the work the code committee has done … but I don’t think that people who run a proper business should be penalized for a group that is not being careful with their rentals, or kind to their neighbors.” Ms. Williams went on to suggest that the fee for the village’s annual short-term rental permit be raised from $250 to $600 a year, with the additional funds going to hire “a part-time person to help the code enforcement officers keep track of things.”

John Kramer, who rents out two of the three apartments in his Central Avenue home, argued that raising the minimum for a short-term rental to 30 days would effectively destroy the market.

“Everybody’s spent a huge amount of money trying to get tourists to Greenport,” he said. “Well, it worked. We have a bunch of tourists who want to come to Greenport. We have day trippers, but we also have people who want to come for two nights. Basically the short-term rental business is Friday to Sunday, Saturday to Monday, Thursday to Saturday, that kind of thing. Most of my rentals are two nights, three nights. Once in my six years have I ever been asked for one week. There is no market for more than seven days.”

Mr. Kramer went on to say that limiting short-term rentals to 30 days would also damage local businesses.

“My visiting guests are spending money in the village,” he said. “They walk into town … all they want to do is spend money in the village.”

Hillary Gulley also took issue with language in the draft of the proposed code change that defines a family as being “related by blood or marriage.”

“I found myself distracted and disturbed at the outset by the way the village attempts to regulate what a family is and isn’t at the local level,” she said. “To say that a family is limited to those related by marriage or blood — you’ve not only erased a good 70 years of social progress, you’ve dismissed many loving people who’ve worked tirelessly to build families in the face of federal policies that have actively thwarted their personal and economic success.”

While acknowledging that the draft language may have been unintentionally restrictive, Ms. Gulley said board members “have a responsibility to use your words wisely, and to have a thorough understanding of their implications when wielding them.”

John Winkler said the lack of code enforcement in the village is the real problem. “It seems to me that this code change punishes the people that are following the rules. I’m a shortterm renter. I’m owner-occupied. I police the people that come and make sure that they are not disruptive to my neighbors. Again, I have over 100 reviews. I have no complaints from my neighbors at all about being respectful to everybody. “The issue — is it 14 days or 30 days — is enforcement. And if you can’t enforce it, then it’s for naught.”

Bay Avenue resident Judy Chi said that initiating a short-term rental minimum requirement would not increase the longterm rental stock in the village.

“Even if we could get a tenant that would rent for say, $3,000 a month, it’s just not enough to offset our costs,” she said of renovating and maintaining a historic home in the area. “So the STR changes … would not create more housing stock in our case. And the proposed change would cause a huge upheaval in our lives. Everything we carefully and responsibly planned financially when we planned to move here would essentially be steamrolled.”

Father Piotr Narkiewicz, administrator of St. Agnes R.C. Church and a Polish immigrant, blasted the board’s proposed restrictions as an example of dangerous government overreach.

“One of the fundamental principles in [communist] Poland at the time was that citizens [were] controlled by the system. The state authorities imposed a huge number of regulations on us that we had to comply with: assembly permits, renovation permits, renovation plan permits, permission to issue a permit for the purchase of materials for renovation, permission to own a TV set, permission to print materials.

“I came to America in 2012 as a legal immigrant. In 2023, I legally became a U.S. citizen. And what did I encounter? Veiled communism where the authorities want to control every aspect of my life. Rules for using leaf blowers; no dog barking longer than 15 minutes; where and how I can host my guests.”

If approved, the proposed code change would take effect Jan. 1, 2025.