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Southampton cracking down on short-term rentals amid COVID-19 concerns

Southampton Town Hall in Southampton is pictured on

Southampton Town Hall in Southampton is pictured on Feb. 25, 2016. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

The Town of Southampton is launching a crackdown on short-term rentals, which officials believe violate new emergency protocols in place due to COVID-19, the town announced in a release this week.

“We are launching this crackdown on flagrant abusers of our rental law beginning immediately,” Southampton Public Safety Director Ryan Murphy said in a statement Tuesday.

The crackdown by the town's Code Enforcement Division will continue through April 29, Murphy said, adding: "Anyone we find engaging in short-term rentals, including the posting of a short-term rental listing for this period, will be subject to significant financial penalties.”

Southampton Town requires that all rental properties obtain a permit and adhere to a minimum rental period of two weeks. However, town officials said, many properties use online platforms like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway to secure short-term tenancies, with some renting by the night or the weekend.

Town officials noted that on March 28 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory urging residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to refrain from nonessential domestic travel.

Short-term rentals, said Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, “not only violate the law, they violate the spirit of the travel advisory.”

The exact range of the potential penalties was not immediately disclosed, but officials said fines could be up to “two times the rental revenues collected." Any rental permit also could be revoked.

Schneiderman said he would like to see any fines collected be used to support local food pantries already overwhelmed by demand.

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On March 27, Schneiderman sent a letter co-signed by many East End leaders to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, asking the governor to consider placing restrictions on all nonessential travel from New York City, “including daily sightseeing visits and leisure travel to vacation homes.”

With many employees ordered to work from home because of the coronavirus pandemic, East End officials say they have seen an influx of visitors to their communities, raising concerns about the ability to manage the added strain on the local health care system and food markets.

“We are all trying to flatten the curve as quickly as possible,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “It is made much more difficult when new people are constantly entering your community, particularly from a known coronavirus hot spot.”

Officials said that while Cuomo had not issued “any of the requested travel restrictions,” Schneiderman believes that Southampton “strictly enforcing our existing restrictions on short-term rentals will achieve a similar end and help protect our community.”

Schneiderman said that Southampton would make “a full exemption” from the rental law if the rental was for health care workers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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