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Airbnbs proliferate on Shelter Island



Shelter Island may be separated from the rest of the world by two ferries, but it doesn’t mean issues affecting neighbors on the North and South forks haven’t found their way here.

There are 77 listings on airbnb.com — a few that are legitimately licensed B&B operations, including two that appear in the Shelter Island telephone book. But the others are private houses providing rooms for guests with no licensing or inspections.

A few may slip past the town code that allows up to two rooms to be rented, according to town Building Permits Coordinator Mary Wilson. But the rest are breaking the law, Ms. Wilson said.

A look at the listings reveals people not just advertising rooms but entire houses on airbnb.com. Others advertise multiple rooms to accommodate 10 or more people. Listings on airbnb.com for Shelter Island range from $100 to $800 a night.

Building Department Clerk Mary Ellen McGayhey said she recently got a complaint from residents who said the neighbors are renting out their Shelter Island house on weekends for rowdy and raucous parties that are disturbing the peace.

But the Building Department is understaffed and unable to inspect all the violations of various laws they are told exist, both Ms. McGayhey and Ms. Wilson said.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty agreed that the proliferation of airbnb.com-registered operations needs to be a subject for the Town Board to investigate.

“I’m surprised,” he said, when told by the Reporter about the number of such establishments listed on the website. Mr. Dougherty said he wants to discuss the issue with his colleagues.

Southold Town in recent weeks adopted a policy that allows homeowners to rent to guests at a minimum of a 14-day stay, aiming to stop the weekend party house rentals.

One legitimately registered Island B&B owner  — who also is listed on airbnb.com — but asked not to be named — said the reason for the online listing is to market the B&B in another way.

“We definitely want to keep it,” the owner said about the town license.

The owner speculated that hotels on Shelter Island might be more affected than B&Bs in trying to compete with airbnbs.

“Everybody does what they want,” the owner said, expressing no concerns that airbnbs are able to operate with no real restrictions.

William Cummings, who has operated the House on Chase Creek as a legitimate B&B since 1989, said he hasn’t given much thought to whether the airbnb system is presenting unfair competition to his business.

“My business is still doing fine,” he said. But if those operators aren’t paying full taxes on their earnings, that might give them the ability to charge less for their rooms, he added.

Another advantage of continuing to operate legitimately is to keep his commercial insurance, Mr. Cummings said.

“People are taking a risk because homeowners insurance doesn’t cover them” if there are injuries or other liability issues, he said.

Licensing is not an arduous process, Mr. Cummings said. It requires renewal every two years and inspection each year according to town code.