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Southold may prosecute violators of short-term rental laws

Officials are concerned about fires that endanger renters and first responders, and said 20 complaints were filed in 2017 about short-term rentals.

A lot off Main Road in Southold is

A lot off Main Road in Southold is seen here. Local officials are considering amending building restrictions to allow for more accessory apartments. Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

As part of their efforts to create more housing for residents while cracking down on violators of the town’s short-term rental laws, Southold Town officials are considering several separate and new policies that would move both goals forward.

The Town Board is mulling tightening its stance on code enforcement of short-term rentals. Though Southold officials passed a law in August 2015 making it illegal for residents to rent their homes for less than 14 days, Supervisor Scott Russell said in a recent interview that the town has learned through complaints that several landlords have not been complying with the law.

While the town has tried issuing notices to the offending property owners, Russell said the violations still continue in some instances, prompting the town to consider prosecuting violators.

“I think we have to swing a heavy hammer down,” Russell said, adding officials are also considering giving the town attorney’s office more resources — such as additional code enforcement officers — to step up enforcement.

Town Attorney William Duffy, who heads the Code Enforcement Division, said the town received 20 complaints in 2017 of landlords allegedly renting properties for fewer than 14 days.

Several fires at such units in recent years revealed that some landlords had created illegal apartments with several safety hazards for renters and firefighters in emergency situations.

As a result, the board is seeking stronger measures. One proposal would create new rules and rental occupancy permit regulations in all town dwelling units to cut down on overcrowding, fire hazards and other quality-of-life issues.

Councilwoman Jill Doherty, who proposed the changes, said with rentals becoming more popular in Southold, safety is something the town “needs to start paying more attention to.”

In particular, the code change would require anyone seeking a rental to have code inspectors check units for compliance with county and state safety regulations, such as proper entrances and exits, working carbon monoxide detectors and sufficiently wide hallways, among other things.

As officials continue to look at Southold’s rental situation, the town board will hold a public hearing next week on amending its code to change building restrictions in some areas that would clear the way for more accessory apartments to be built in town.

While current town code restrictions don’t allow principal-use apartments to be built in specific commercially zoned areas of town, the proposed code changes could allow for more affordable rental housing in those areas.

Russell has previously called for ways to create more housing options for town residents.

Watching for violations of rental rules

Southold Town’s code enforcement officials are keeping an eye on websites advertising short-term rental units that could be in violation of town code, and are also developing other tactics to find possible code violators.

14

Number of days a property must be legally rented on a short-term basis

20

Number of complaints officials received in 2017 about rentals of fewer than 14 days

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