Featured Story

Board to draft law limiting vacation rentals

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO Resident Chuck Kraus addressing the Town Board Tuesday on the issue of short-term rentals.
AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO Resident Chuck Kraus addressing the Town Board Tuesday on the issue of short-term rentals.

Councilman Paul Shepherd characterized it as the “the elephant in the room.” Supervisor Jim Dougherty called it “the main event ” of Tuesday’s Town Board work session.

But it took a while to acknowledge the elephant and kick off the main event.

Half an hour into a discussion on aspects of draft legislation to regulate short-term rentals (STRs,) the board turned to what most people were waiting for — if the board would codify time limits on stays and the number of times a year a property can be rented on a short-term basis.

Shelter Island is the only town on the East End without a minimum-stay provision in its rental laws.

The consensus, after an extended discussion, was to put restrictions on homeowners renting their property on a short-term basis to a one- or two-week minimum, with exceptions for shorter rentals throughout the year.

The debate about regulating STRs — Mr. Dougherty said Tuesday it is “one of the most important issues the Island has faced in many, many years” — has been aired before the board since the spring of 2016. It was spurred by the proliferation of online rental sites, such as airbnb, which some say has turned parts of the Island into a party destination for boorish weekenders.

Those calling for more regulations fear that STRs, in the era of online bookings, will alter the character of Shelter Island as a family-friendly place. They are countered by those who don’t want restrictions, noting that STRs allow families to remain on the Island by helping defray steep mortgages and related costs, and also boost the Island’s tourist economy.

Tuesday the board discussed the East Hampton law on STRs, which requires a two-week minimum stay, with four exceptions a year for shorter stays, two in the first six months of a calendar year and two in the following six months. Mr. Dougherty said the law seems to be working well in East Hampton, that most residents there were in compliance and there have been no lawsuits, unlike Riverhead and Southold, which are involved in STRs litigation.

Less than 10 days ago, the board held a public hearing on legislation it had drafted on the issue that attracted so much interest the event was held at the school auditorium to accommodate more than 200 residents. That draft had no provisions for time limits at all, but included:

  • Licensing by the town with proof that owners have been registered with Suffolk County for tax purposes and can produce a letter from their insurers showing that guests are covered in the event of any accidents on the property
  • Occupancy of a rental shall not exceed two persons per conventional bedroom
  • Provide guests with a handbook to familiarize them with limits to noise or overcrowding as well as water concerns on the Island
  • Require advertisements of short-term rentals to list the registration numbers and information about maximum occupancies
  • Exempt rentals that provide permanent homes for tenants
  • Exempt existing hotels and bed & breakfast establishments already covered by other ordinances.

Almost immediately after the public hearing Councilwoman Chris Lewis and Mr. Shepherd expressed the need for time limits on STRs. Councilman Jim Colligan was already on board to impose restrictions; he had suggested limitations in an earlier draft that was rejected by the board.

Mr. Dougherty seems to be the one member on the board who would prefer less strict restrictions, asking Tuesday that a draft to be prepared and discussed next week leave blank the time limit for minimum stays and suggesting Shelter Island could have more exceptions to shorter stays than the four allowed in East Hampton.

Only one resident of several in the audience was allowed to speak on the issue, since technically the public hearing on STRs is closed. Chuck Kraus questioned how well the East Hampton law is working and noted that there’s “no basis, no facts, no study on the negative impact on the community” of STRs.

Town Receipts for January

Total: January 2017 — $77,400
January 2016 — $81,800

Building permits: January 2017 — $4,250
January 2106 — $6,150

Landfill receipts: January 2017— $$23,000
January 2016 — $27,800

Source: Shelter Island Town Clerk