After hearing from residents for two weeks in a row about serious problems associated with airbnbs — unregulated short term rentals — the Town Board heard another story at Tuesday’s work session.
Two residents told the board that short-term rentals were an economic lifeline to many individuals and a large part of the financial well being for the entire Island.
Before they addressed the board, Supervisor Jim Dougherty said he and his colleagues would be moving “slowly and deliberately on this. We want to something that’s good, rather than something that’s fast.”
Town Attorney Laury Dowd has drafted amendments to the section of the town code regulating B&Bs.
Proposed additions to the law would be that a one-family dwelling renting for less than 14 days would be categorized as a B&B and comply with all regulations, including being owner occupied. It would prohibit advertising a B&B unless it has a proper license and “hefty fines for violators,” Ms. Dowd said.
Councilman Paul Shepherd said, “It’s exactly where I want [legislation] to go. We could hear it tomorrow as far as I’m concerned … this gives us something. I’d rather have something that is marginally flawed than nothing.”
A resident then addressed the board, saying her husband is disabled and we live off his disability. We started doing airbnbs after I lost my job two and a half years ago.”
Close to 100 percent of the people she has rented rooms to “are wonderful people.” Renters have included families, people on the Island for weddings, visitors who have families here and parents with students at the Perlman Music Program.
“This has been a wonderful experience for us,” she said. “It’s allowed me to keep my house. Without the money I make through airbnb, I would not have my home now.”
Answering a question from Mr. Shepherd, she said she was in residence when she rented to guests.
Chuck Krause told the board “eliminating short term rentals here on shelter Island is wrong.”
Visitors “contribute enormously to Island life,” Mr. Krause added, noting that people who come to Shelter Island for a short stay often end up buying property. In addition, the economic health of the Island depends “on a short 12 week season.” Mr. Krause asked the board not to “take it out on struggling homeowners who need help with their mortgages, or the guy renting bicycles or kayaks or the waitress trying to make enough over the summer to help pay her tuition.”
Problems with renters, he said, has nothing to do with the length of a lease, with unruly tenants who rent by the month, the season or year round making trouble, “as police reports attest.”
“Before you come up with another stupid law,” Mr. Krause said, it would be wise to have an escalating fine for noise complaints coming from an individual house. He also called on the board to look at East Hampton’s regulations, where landlords have to enter a registry, pay a fee and use a registry number in all advertising.
“I ask the board to use common sense and not mess up what we already have,” he said.
Mr. Dougherty said, “It’s a problem. But we have to be aware of economic realities on the Island as well.”
In other business: Green Options Advisory Committee Chairman Tim Purtell presented the results of an extensive poll on single-use plastic bags to the board. The committee conducted three-month poll earlier this year and found that almost 80 percent of Islanders who responded are in favor of banning the bags on the Island.
The Reporter will have more on the poll on our website and in next week’s print edition.
Mr. Dougherty announced that the town reached an agreement with the union representing Shelter Island Police officers raising salaries 2 percent annually over the next two and a half years. The employees will also contribute 15 percent toward the cost of their health care benefits.
The board is moving to spend $21,500 for a study on restoring and mitigating erosion at Reel Point. The Peconic Land Trust will contribute an equal amount. The study would conclude in late fall, and after the data is recorded, the town will assess going forward to begin work on the project.
Supervisor Dougherty has been selected to be a member of a Suffolk County Tick Control Advisory Board.