A single sheet of paper representing possible changes to the bitterly fought short-term rental (STR) law that was passed a year ago was distributed at Tuesday’s Town Board work session.
Supervisor Gary Gerth and Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. made clear that nothing is written in stone and that the single sheet represents some preliminary thoughts about possible changes to the STR law to make it easier for homeowners without some of the limits in the current regulations.
The outline presents help for those who are full-time residents and not corporations, Mr. DeStefano said, who offer their homes for vacation rentals to help cover their mortgages and other expenses, He emphasized that the conversation about changes to the existing law are at “a very early stage” and said there would be plenty of time to hear from anyone who has ideas that can make the process smoother.
With the April 2017 legislation, Shelter Island joined the other East End towns putting restrictions on STRs, including, among other provisions, that non-owner occupied residences be registered and licensed by the town; they must abide by advertising restrictions; and no rental in a non-owner occupied residence will be allowed more than once in any 14 day period.
Complicating the issue is a lawsuit filed in federal court last August by several Shelter Island residents. The legal action accuses the town and the Town Board of violating their rights under federal, state and local laws, including the right to equal protection, due process, fundamental property rights and the town’s zoning regulations.
Mr. Gerth said Tuesday that even before he was elected in November he wanted to see changes that would bring relief to homeowners who are primary residents and need some relief from the existing law.
Among the thoughts contained in the outline are that the premises must be the only house for rent that the owners possess and that they must live there for a period of time to be determined by the Town Board. Property owners eligible for flexible treatment must be individuals, not corporations.
One purpose behind the vacation rental law was to encourage affordable housing by discouraging STRs that could otherwise be offered as year-round rentals, according to the information Mr. DeStefano provided.
“An unintended consequence of the existing law was to make it more difficult for those trying to pay for their home by renting it out part-time,” according to Mr. DeStefano. “This proposal is an attempt to address that issue.”
A second part of the revision could be a change in the law affecting quality of life issues for neighbors of STRs. Under the current law, if neighbors complain about noise or other violations, police would issue a citation to the renter. But that person may leave town and there would be no recourse for correcting the situation.
Instead, the Town Board may consider making owners responsible for activities on their properties with the responsibility to pay any and could lose their right to rent if violations persisted. It would be up to the owner to inform the tenant of the laws and they could even assess fines to the tenant if they put a clause into their rental contracts providing for such action.
By holding the landlord responsible for what happens on a property, more screening would go into the process of renting a property, according to the town attorney.
Another suggestion is to hire a code enforcement officer to relieve police from some of the work in enforcing existing laws.
Among the issues on the board’s executive — or private — session’s agenda Tuesday was pending litigation filed by a number of Islanders who sought to overturn the law completely.