The Southampton Town Board on Tuesday amended its rental law to allow homeowners to legally rent their houses for as short a period as 14 days, down from the 30-day minimum the law previously required.
The measure, which was proposed by Councilman Chris Nuzzi, was adopted unanimously. Board members said it was an important step to help homeowners to earn money from renting in the event that they don’t want to rent a property for longer periods of the summer.
The Town Board is still considering other amendments to the rental code that would substantially stiffen penalties against homeowners who habitually violate the town’s rental laws. Those amendments will be the subject of a public hearing on May 28.
Mr. Nuzzi said after this week’s amendments were adopted that the change to the town’s rental code will allow homeowners to take advantage of an Internal Revenue Service rule that makes income from rentals of less than 15 days tax-free. Those renting their house for two-week periods will still have to obtain a rental permit from the town and will have to comply with all other provisions of the rental code.
“This is a good thing for people who want to make some needed income off their house in the summertime, and it’s an important resource for our visitors,” Mr. Nuzzi said. “People need to make some income wherever they can get it now, and this gives them another option.”
The change also will make more and more affordable rentals available for visitors to the East End, and will reduce noncompliance by homeowners who had been renting their homes for shorter periods than the town code allowed.
Indeed, following the adoption of the amendment, several real estate agents said there likely will be only a small increase in the number of rentals available for 14-day terms than there were before, because those homeowners who wished to rent for two-week terms typically did so despite the prohibitions in the town code.
“Most people who would do it were doing it already without permits,” Westhampton Beach agent Herb Phillips said. “But this is better. Those two-week rentals are good for the community. People here for shorter periods spend more freely.”
Mr. Phillips said that there has been a trend since the economic crisis of 2008 that has increased the demand for shorter-term, lower-cost rentals than the traditional full summer season and month-long rentals.
But not everyone sees the town’s acceptance of shorter-term rentals as a good thing.
“When I was young, it was Memorial Day to Labor Day—and that is the best thing for the people who live and work here,” Southampton real estate agent and property manager Morley Quatroche Jr. said. “The seasonal rental is better for the economy, it’s better for the neighborhoods, it’s better than the quick-hit in-and-out. I liken the short-term rentals more to day-trippers who come out and buy a T-shirt and eat some ice cream and window-shop, but that’s it.”
Later this month, the board will hold a public hearing on amendments that will make the punishment for those who do not comply with the town’s rental law substantially more painful. With the town battling numerous chronic violators of rental codes every year, lawmakers have been trying to find a way to give the punishments more teeth than the relatively paltry fines the current code allows.
Officials have said that those homeowners and illegal renters have taken to counting the payment of fines as “a cost of doing business” in the highly lucrative property rental market. Short-term rentals of as little as a single weekend, overcrowding of rentals, and failure to meet critical fire and health safety standards are common violations.
The proposed new fines schedules will allow the town to levy fines of up to $30,000 on habitual violators and add jail sentences of up to six months.