Short-term rental owners showed up to speak out last night in front of the Greenport Village Trustees, voicing a willingness to enter into a rental permit/fee system if it means they get to keep their rentals.
The public was invited to the meeting to give input on the future of the Greenport rental code. The current code, adopted in 2013, exempts seasonal rentals (less than four months) and transient or temporary rentals (29 days or less) from the requirement imposed on a property owner to obtain a rental permit.
But as Greenport becomes an increasingly popular destination for tourists, community members are growing concerned with short-term rentals. These types of rentals are on the rise, in part due to a website called AirBnB that allows homeowners to rent out rooms, apartments or even entire houses for a short period of time.
Community members fear the short-term rental explosion is causing overcrowding, and that unsafe homes may be rented since they are not being inspected.
“We’re trying to put together a true rental law. This proposal has been with the code committee for a year and we’ve kicked around different versions, none of which we were really comfortable with,” said Mayor George Hubbard. “We thought, let’s open it up and get public comment before we write something.”
A draft of the new code was handed out before the meeting, including the trustees’ widely varying opinions on what should be done to deal with the situation.
The most popular solution seemed to be a rental permit and rental fee policy that would allow the village to inspect properties regularly for overcrowding and other safety concerns.
“I feel there should be a $500 fee per year, with a checklist of things the village expects, as well as an inspection,” said Jane Williams. “If there are 200, 300 short-term rentals, then that’s enough money to hire an inspector.”
Others, such as William Swiskey, think the board is approaching the issue from the wrong angle.
“I think you’re trying to morph something into the regular rental law that won’t fit,” said Swiskey. “This just doesn’t work.”
“We should change bed-and-breakfast code to include short-term and owner-occupied rentals,” Douglas Moore suggested.
Moore, who serves on the Greenport Zoning Board of Appeals, suggested that all the code details be contained in one chapter, since bed-and-breakfasts are in chapter 150 with others rentals in chapter 103.
Jeanne Cooper thinks the town should take a much more direct approach to rooting out those breaking the rules.
“I suggest one of the most important additions to any attempt to regulate rentals is to see if the homeowners can legally rent the property,” she said. Cooper worked with mortgages for years, she said, and she knows the rules and feels certain many of the rental-owners in Greenport are breaking them.
“When you purchase or refinance, you fill out a federal form for a mortgage application and you designate whether its your primary home, secondary home or an investment property,” she said.
To legally rent a house mortgaged by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, it must be a primary residence owned for more than a year or it must be designated as an investment property, she said, something that she feels most would not do due to different pricing on the plans.
“You are in default of your loans if you bought a secondary home and are renting it,” she said. “Your attorney might not even have told you but it doesn’t matter. It’s fraud, pure and simple.”
Cooper said she feels the impact of short-term rentals on her Park Street home.
“We’re a community. We raise our children here, take care of our elderly here. I know my neighbor next door — I take care of her dog. I know the neighbor across the street, the little girl around the corner who sometimes loses her way. But I don’t even know the people who are in my neighborhood now,” she said. “When you bring different people in to the community on a revolving basis you are bringing strangers into neighborhoods. It’s not a little thing to have strangers around all the time.”
“That’s just homophobic,” responded Pat Mundus. Asked to explain her comment after the meeting, Mundus went on to say that she doesn’t like the use of ‘other-ing’ language. “That ‘us vs. them’ mentality is dangerous and breeds hate.”
Chris Balzaretti, who renovated an investment home on Wiggins Street that he now rents out short-term, brought a different perspective to the table.
“My renters are great people, adding to the economy. I have someone come and clean after each stay, and she never has to clean the kitchen. They go to our local restaurants for every meal,” he said. “I ask them why they’re staying with me and they say there aren’t enough hotels, they’re all booked.”
John Kramer, who has both long-term and short-term rentals, said it all comes down to the tenants. “It’s not the time that’s the problem, it’s the behavior. My tenants know my neighbors have a right to quiet, and my neighbors have no problems with my rentals.”
Balzaretti echoed others in saying that he was “all for a permit or a tax.”
“But as a person who just really invested into this town, I have to say — I wouldn’t have done that if a short-term rental law was in place,” he said.
Despite the few clashes of opinion, most were in agreement on one thing: the village made the right move by asking for public input.
“Thank you for having this hearing, it’s been very informative,” said Walter Foote.
“I really want to commend the board,” said Joyce deCordova. “You’re opening it up, saying there’s an issue so let’s see what the public wants before going back to the drawing board.”
Correction: A previously published version of this article incorrectly stated that owners must designate their property as an investment home in their mortgage in order to rent. They may also rent if it is their primary home that they have owned for more than a year.