Board reconsiders rental registration
Last week, Bellport officials reconvened for a special work session dedicated to rentals in the village, paying special attention to the issue of short-term rentals through platforms like AirBnb, HomeAway and VRBO.
With a dozen community members present, board members delved into possible solutions, including another discussion about issuing rental permits. Last fall, a proposed code change that would have required rental properties to be registered with the village resulted in a tied vote, with one trustee absent. If passed, that registration would have included a $250 annual fee and would have required safety inspections by the village building inspector and fire marshal before the house could be rented. Alternatively, the residents could opt to have their own home inspector certify the dwelling.
But over the course of the two-hour work session, two separate issues became conflated. Though short-term rentals have become hotly debated issues in big cities and sleepy seaside communities alike, Bellport Village faces a unique challenge in regulating village-run amenities including the golf course, tennis courts and taking the ferry to Ho-Hum Beach.
“It’s easy to see why someone would want to come here for two weeks with their children — I’ve spent 43 years here with my children,” said Mayor Ray Fell, acknowledging that the proliferation of short-term rentals in the village is correlated to what vacationers are looking for: beaches, recreation and a more low-key getaway than the Hamptons.
At the start of the meeting, Fell went through the variety of complaints he has heard from residents. One complaint, he said, was that the beach was more crowded than ever this summer. “That came partly from renters who were using the beach with their families and bringing guests and also from residents who brought guests to the beach,” he said. “Some residents were very concerned with the fact that when they went over to the beach on the weekend, they knew nobody over there.”
The issue reads as a “double-edged sword” to deputy mayor Joe Gagliano, who noted that residents love Bellport and want to protect their lifestyle, but that tourism drives the economy. “And people who rent their homes may need that revenue,” Gagliano said. “We shouldn’t be trying to take that away.”
Fell noted that a total of 31 renters purchased ID cards during their stay for $250. Additionally, he said he received approximately six complaints throughout the summer season about house rentals from neighbors frustrated with noise and parties well after midnight. Other residents complained that they didn’t recognize people on their own street, with their neighbors renting their homes out so frequently.
Fell set four goals for the board: to maintain quality of life for village residents; get a better handle on village amenities; address traffic concerns; and assist residents who do rent their homes so they are safe for anyone coming into the village. Trustee Bob Rosenberg wondered how these codes could be enforced. Fell agreed, noting that it’s something they would either have to delegate to a current village employee or hire someone to keep tabs on. “We either have a code that we’re going to enforce, or we shouldn’t be wasting our time,” he said.
Gagliano said it might be easier for the board to tackle one issue at a time, rather than try to draft sweeping legislation that would address both rental regulations and amenity use for visitors. “I think our main goal should be safety. If you want to rent your residence, we want to make sure it’s going to be safe. We don’t want to put people in danger,” Gagliano said. Trustee Steve Mackin agreed. “I think we have to start somewhere, and registration is a good place since it’s a safety issue,” he said.
The board unanimously agreed that rental properties of any length should be registered with the village and issued a permit, but struggled to agree on defining any further limits, such as possibly banning rentals less than 14 days or defining the season and enforcing home-rental limits within that time frame. Fell asked village attorney Dave Moran to draft a preliminary code, which they will review at a work session after Thanksgiving. “This isn’t in response to the six complaints,” Moran said. “We knew of 37 rentals, but we don’t know whether it’s safe or not. If you want to live in your own home with your own family and not have a smoke detector, you’re entitled to it. But here, you’re opening your home to the public with a fee, just like a hotel.”
Fell acknowledged that the issue has taken some time to address, first brought up in 2015. “Last year, we did bed and breakfasts. This year, we’re going to go a little bit further. It’s going to take a few years before we get it perfect,” he said, noting that the village can learn something from each season.
But Moran brought up concerns that are larger than the village itself. “Montauk has passed legislation to limit the bars, but those kids are going to go somewhere. Patchogue is growing in leaps and bounds; when you drive through on a Friday night it looks like the Lower East Side of Manhattan,” Moran said, noting that Bellport may become an attractive option due to its proximity to Patchogue. “If I wanted to spend a couple weeks out here and go to the bars and go to the beach, Bellport is a pretty safe place, and not totally out there yet,” he said, warning that the board should be proactive and not reactive. “So we’re ready when the Hampton Jitney makes a stop on Main Street.”
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