Last week, Greenport Village officials closed a contentious public hearing on establishing a 30-day minimum for short-term rentals, saying they would make changes to the proposed code updates and hold a new hearing in the coming months.

Village trustees defended the original proposal, saying that changes must be made to the code and loopholes must be closed, while acknowledging that 30 days may be too much for a village that currently has no minimum stay restrictions on short-term rentals.

The decision followed a pair of hearings in which homeowners who rent out parts or all of their properties, as well as local business owners, said they not only oppose the measure but that they don’t even understand what is driving the 30-day minimum proposal.

Village Mayor Kevin Stuessi said at the end of last Wednesday’s meeting that “anybody who is familiar with rental laws on the [East End] should be extremely familiar with the fact that Greenport’s law currently is by far the most liberal of any community on the entirety of [Eastern Long Island] by a wide margin.”

He said the proposed changes are largely aimed at fortifying the village’s year-round housing stock.

“My fear, and I know for a lot of others in the village, is that we will turn into just a bunch of weekend rentals, and there will be a time where … we only operate for three months at a time.”

Deputy Mayor Mary Bess Phillips, head of the village’s code committee, said that Greenport is home to a disproportionate number of the North Fork’s short-term rentals and suffers from a dearth of available year-round housing. 

“This discussion started with the fact that we’re trying to look at increasing the densities in the Village of Greenport,” she said. “We’re looking for [accessory dwelling units] that could possibly be used as housing for professional people, for a single person, for service industries that we care about.”

She said employees at Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport are quitting because they can’t find affordable housing anywhere near their job.

“The biggest question that came out of the committee is … how do we not create more short-term rentals?”

Trustee Patrick Brennan seemed to suggest that officials will amend the 30-day minimum proposal when he told residents at the end of the hearing that the number was “a little bit orchestrated to provoke a response.”

He said that at a recent work session, village officials decided to “propose in the draft language that it’s going to be 30 days, and people will respond.

“I’m very pleased with the response,” he added, “because it certainly informed my thinking. I haven’t really decided on exactly what the appropriate thing to do is here.”

Under current village code, short-term rental owners must obtain a village permit, which has to be renewed every two years. Permits are issued for single-family homes renting a portion of the house, or two-family homes with one unit being either owner-occupied or occupied by a long-term tenant.

Last summer, Mr. Stuessi told The Suffolk Times that there were 346 active rental permits in a village with fewer than 1,000 parcels, including commercial properties.

In the surrounding town of Southold, the short-term rental minimum is 14 days, with a penalty for a first-time offense that ranges from $3,000 to $10,000. In Riverhead, the minimum stay is 30 days, though the fines are far lower, ranging from $500 to $1,500 for a first offense violation. 

Residents and business owners who challenged the proposed code change said that a 30-day minimum was unnecessary, illogical and would destroy the short-term rental market for homeowners who have been legally and responsibly renting to weekenders for years.

“Nobody wants to come out here for 30 days,” First Street resident Rich Miller said. “But people love to come out for the weekend. Spend money, relax, park the car, walk into town, enjoy a couple of cocktails … This is good for the community. This is good for the restaurants. This is good for the people renting out. This is cash coming in to supplement their income. I don’t see a problem with it.”

Business owner Kim Loper wondered why there were no statistics that would support the need for the 30-day minimum.

“Why is the push with no documentation presented to anybody to say, ‘this is what we need?’ ”

Jane Ratsey Williams asked the board members to “think about the last time you took a 30-day vacation.

“The problem is not how long our guests stay or how many short-term rentals there are. The problem is, if they’re there, some of them are badly or poorly managed and not respectful of their neighbors, and with questionable booking practices. I think if our code and our enforcement of the code could help keep those standards, it would solve the problem.”

Resident Judy Chi said she looked up Southold Town Police records and determined that in the past three years there were less than a half dozen reports of disorderly conduct, public intoxication or offenses against public order.

“Even if all of these occurred in Greenport, it seems to me that it’s not really disrupting the community in that way — at least it’s not documented in any of the police reports. So it really would be helpful for us here to have any statistics on complaints that have been filed that are related to short-term rentals. Otherwise … it feels like we’re working in the dark here.”’

Mr. Stuessi challenged the notion that there was no market for 30-day rentals.

“We’ve heard some conflicting statements from folks who say there’s no market for monthly rentals,” he said. “That’s not the case. Some of you may be aware that I did have a house that I rented for a month minimum at a time. I never marketed it for less than that. And I had a lot of demand for it.”

At the end of the hearing, Mr. Brennan said the board was seeking to find a middle ground.

“We’ve got to strike the right balance and we have to proceed carefully. We don’t want unintended consequences. We’re not trying to create undue hardship on people. But we absolutely have to update our short-term rental code. It’s clear and it’s not enforceable and, in my mind, has too many carve outs and too many loopholes.

“You can tell from this discussion just now, not everyone is really clear on how it works, what it means and how it’s supposed to be enforced. So we do have a lot of work to do.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *