The Southold Town Board enacted a transient rental law two years ago after a series of contentious meetings and public hearings with concerned residents. You might think that the new law solved the issue of short-term rentals in Southold. You would be wrong.
After a summer surrounded by weekend rentals and a few sleepless nights, I realized that despite the law, little had changed. Therefore, I filed a Freedom of Information Law request with Southold Town seeking the following: all complaints filed regarding short-term rental properties between November 2015 and July 2017, the number of violations issued by code enforcement, the number of complaints settled or closed, the number of homeowners who have paid fines and the amounts of the fines and a list of court actions regarding short-term rentals and the dispositions of the cases.
I received a thick stack of documents in response and dug in to read them. To my dismay only four complaints went to court. One was dismissed and two were adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. One case, involving a homeowner in Orient, is still in State Supreme Court in Riverhead. There were no records about any fines imposed even though a total of 128 complaints about transient rentals were sent to code enforcement.
In my hamlet of East Marion there were 26 complaints filed. Twenty of the complaints were about the same two homes. Fifteen were filed about one home on Gillette Drive. Another five complaints have been filed about another home nearby. Of the remaining 102 complaints filed, 23 were filed in Orient, 43 in Southold, eight each in Mattituck and Cutchogue, seven in Laurel, six in Greenport outside the village, five in Peconic, and two in New Suffolk.
Clearly, the law isn’t working. Here’s why: At the time the law was enacted, town officials said that an advertisement on a short-term rental site for a rental of less than 14 days was sufficient to presume that the homeowner was breaking the law. Unfortunately, this is not true. I spoke with the town attorney and code enforcement, who informed me that the town sends out notices of violation, but it needs much more substantial evidence — such as proof of a financial transaction or testimony from a renter — in order to prove the case in court.
Regulation of short-term rentals is now a world-wide problem. Here in Southold we need to enact a law that can be enforced, and I believe that a rental permit law would accomplish that. Such a law would make it easier to prove a short-term rental case because the town could get a warrant to inspect a home. It would also force the slumlords, who rent unsafe, crowded housing, to bring their buildings up to code. Rental permit laws are working in Riverhead and East Hampton and they can work in Southold.
Southold needs to do more if we are to sustain our hamlets. We want to live with neighbors who are invested in our community. Let’s not wait until Southold’s housing is turned over to out-of-town speculators who are just invested in real estate.
Anne Murray is an East Marion resident since 2000. The views expressed are hers alone, and not those of the East Marion Community Association, which has not taken a position on the subject.
Correction: The East Marion Community Association was incorrectly identified in the author note originally published with this column.
Editor’s note: The “In My Opinion” column is open to anyone who wants to submit a viewpoint on any topic. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the point of view of RiverheadLOCAL’s publishers. We welcome submissions. Be sure to include your email address and daytime phone number. Click here to submit your opinion.