Featured Story

Airbnbs front and center with Town Board

Airbnbs have proliferated on Shelter Island over the past two summers.
Airbnbs have proliferated on Shelter Island over the past two summers.

The Shelter Island Town Board is looking to its neighbors on the North and South forks and New York State for guidance in developing legislation aimed at airbnbs — unregulated short term rentals — without infringing on property owners’ rights.

For the second week in a row, residents filled Town Hall to discuss the problems and hear what their elected officials are considering on how to deal with loud, all-night parties, unruly and often drunken visitors who are disrupting their neighborhoods at all hours.

“We’re fighting for the soul of Shelter Island,” one resident said.

Others, who depend on income received from renting rooms, have also been barraging the board with letters, town officials said.

“We have to move carefully,” Councilman Jim Colligan said, while acknowledging that for those who are disturbed by “inappropriate, loud and vulgar noise, we can’t move fast enough.”

There’s no draft proposal for legislation on the table, so the board hasn’t scheduled a public hearing.

Town Attorney Laury Dowd will begin working on a draft of a new law based on New York State legislation passed last week that awaits Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature.

The state aims to restrict advertising for most rentals in New York City that are made available for fewer than 30 days.

New York already has a short-term dwelling law on the books, making it illegal to offer such rentals. But that hasn’t stopped the proliferation of advertisements by airbnbs.

With the Legislature’s action last week, Josh Meltzer, head of the New York Public Policy for Airbnb, argued that Albany politicians have put thousands of New Yorkers at risk of bankruptcy, eviction or foreclosure.

Councilwoman Chris Lewis suggested that any advertising of short-term rentals on Shelter Island would have to be for owner-occupied spaces. That’s one of the major differences between airbnbs and B&Bs. The latter must be licensed, owner-occupied, insured and adhere to other regulations.

Councilman Paul Shepherd said those renting spaces for two weeks or less on the Island should comply to the same registration requirements and regulations that B&Bs must meet.

Residents at Tuesday’s work session wanted to know how the town would enforce a local law similar to the state’s proposed legislation.

Shelter Island Heights Property Owners Corporation Executive Director Stella Lagudis was concerned that property owners could place ads making the spaces seem legal and then do what they want with a wink to renters.

Others worried about new construction, where they suspect there are plans to create airbnbs, since some have multiple bedrooms locked separately and each with its own bathroom.

Shelter Island isn’t known for strong enforcement of its regulations, one resident said, suggesting the town would need to put money into enforcing any new law.

Town officials also intend to look to East Hampton, where a rental registry has been created requiring a $100 filing fee for a two-year listing. East Hampton will require owners, when they register, to enter the number of rooms in the structure, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the number of tenants and the length of stays. Advertisements of shared housing and reports of overcrowding and other violations are to be tracked through enforcement of existing town codes.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty said he will be speaking with East Hampton officials about the effect the new legislation is having on the community.

He added that he would speak to Southold Supervisor Scott Russell about the newly passed law there that requires short-term rentals be offered for a minimum of 30 days.

Greenport, which has seen its year-round rental spaces depleted, at least partially by airbnbs, is also monitoring Southold and other East End towns and villages on the issue.

Friedrich Seifts, who lives next door to an airbnb party house on Sylvan Lane, attended the board’s meeting Tuesday. He said he was in a wait-and-see mode on actions the board might take to return his neighborhood to normalcy, but added, “I’m satisfied it’s being addressed.