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For Rent: Smithtown historic properties with charm, views and stories to tell

Park Manager Jeff Gumin, 51, stands on the

Park Manager Jeff Gumin, 51, stands on the front porch of the historic Hoyt House Museum at the Hoyt Farm Nature Preserve in Commack, July 29, 2015. Jeff lives in the historic home, half of which is a functioning musuem open to visitors on weekends between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend. Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

Jeffrey Gumin lives on 133 pristine, wooded acres in a brown-shingled house that dates to the 1770s. White trim adorns its more than two dozen windows that allow light to stream through the home's nine bedrooms and eight bathrooms.

"It's like a piece of heaven," said Gumin, 53. "What's not to like?"

The house, located at the Hoyt Farm Nature Preserve in Commack, is one of four historic properties that the Town of Smithtown owns and leases as homes to offset maintenance costs and increase security, officials said.

"The very fact that they're historic and they should be preserved, it makes good sense to have somebody occupy the house and, in essence, protect the house from vandalism or damage of any sort," Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said.

The town also leases a home at the Harned Saw Mill in Commack and two cottages at Sweetbriar Farm in unincorporated Smithtown.

To find renters, town officials set a minimum price and solicit bids, advertising in local papers and on Craigslist.

Bids are open to all -- not just town residents -- but a local bidder would win if more than one offered the same price for the highest monthly rent, said Russell Barnett, town environmental protection director and staff member for the Smithtown Conservation Board, which manages three of the four rental properties. Leases are for one year.

Other bid criteria include having good credit -- although there is no minimum credit score requirement -- and passing a background check. Bidders also must agree to honor town limits on the number of people that can live in the historic home.

"We want to make sure that number one, that people have a decent credit history, that there's no criminal history," Barnett said.

Two of the homes -- Caretaker's Cottage and Twins' Cottage -- are on Sweetbriar Farm, which thousands of schoolchildren visit each year.

"We want to make sure that we don't wind up inadvertently renting the property to someone who might be incompatible with basic use of the property as a school," Barnett said.

The total rental income for the four properties in 2011 -- the most recent year in which all four properties were occupied -- was $47,711, he said. Since then, some have been vacant for renovations or repairs.

The Harned Saw Mill house last rented 11/2 years ago for $2,100 per month, Barnett said. The high bid among those opened on July 30 was $1,800. Caretaker's Cottage, vacant since 2013, was last rented for $1,850 per month, and Twins' Cottage is currently occupied for $900 monthly, he said.

In addition to the income, having people on-site round-the-clock increases security, Barnett said.

"Years ago we had problems with people coming in and cutting down trees when firewood was popular, when the price of oil went up," said Barnett, of Sweetbriar Farm. A tenant alerted officials to the problem.

At another time, when Caretaker's Cottage was vacant, a pipe burst and the town didn't find out about it immediately, leading to mold and about $35,000 worth of damage, he said.

Tenants are responsible for doing "basic walk-arounds of the property" and letting officials know about any needed repairs or maintenance issues, Barnett said.

"When you choose to rent for residential purposes, there's a whole body of regulations and laws that pertain to, you know, tenants' rights," he said. "We certainly want to make sure that when we rent these properties, that the properties are up to code, that they represent a healthful, decent place to live. We certainly don't want to incur any problems for someone else, or liabilities to the town."

Other towns on Long Island also maintain and lease historic property for residential dwellings.

Huntington leases the 1740 Ezra Carll Homestead in Huntington Station to a caretaker who provides security and performs some maintenance such as mowing the lawn, weeding flower beds, keeping the driveways clear of snow and ice, and immediately reporting any vandalism, town spokesman A.J. Carter said. The town collects $750 per month in rent; the caretaker is responsible for utilities.

"The town benefits by, first of all, getting some revenue and by having someone take care of the property," Carter said. "By having somebody who lives there, it reduces the chance of vandalism."

The Town of Brookhaven allows the director of the 1790 Longwood Estate in Ridge to live on the property, but not in the historic home, town spokesman Jack Krieger said. 

East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said the town owns more than 20 historic properties and leases some of them to nonprofit groups as offices, but not as private dwellings. The arrangement lightens the municipal responsibility to operate and maintain the sites, he said.

Officials with the towns of North Hempstead and Hempstead, and the City of Long Beach, said they either didn't own historic properties or didn't rent homes on their properties.

The Town of Oyster Bay doesn't rent out its historic properties as dwellings, town spokeswoman Marta Kane said in an email. The town maintains and monitors the sites with regular patrols in some cases, and in others entrusts their care to community groups that have historically managed the properties well, Kane said.

Because of incorrect information provided by the Town of Brookhaven, a previous version of this story incorrectly reported living arrangements at a historic town property.

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