The Town of Southampton’s ordinance enforcement division is cracking down on April short-term rentals.
Many properties, according to the town, are being rented by the night or just the weekend at a time when the community is growing increasingly concerned about new people entering from the Metropolitan area, at the nation’s epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Southampton requires all rental property owners obtain a permit and adhere to a minimum two-week rental period, but properties listed on online platforms like Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway are still securing short-term tenants.
On March 28, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an advisory, urging residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to refrain from nonessential travel. According to Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, these short-term rentals “not only violate the law, they violate the spirit of the travel advisory.”
On March 24, members of The White House Coronavirus Task Force, including Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 Dr. Anthony Fauci and American physician and diplomat Dr. Deborah Birx, recommended travelers from New York self-quarantine for 14 days.
“How can that be achieved if people are coming out here for only a few days?” Schneiderman said. “It’s one thing if a family comes to a property for several weeks — yes, there is an increased risk — but when a property turns over several times in the same period, there is a significantly increased risk.”
The supervisor has already deemed the ordinance enforcement division essential in order to impose state directives on nonessential business operation and social distancing. Now, it will gear up for a crackdown on short-term rentals, too. Fines for violations can be up to two times the rental revenues collected, and could include revocation of a rental permit. Schneiderman said he would like to see all fines used to support local food pantries that have already seen a four-fold increase in service demand. He said he is working closely with Public Safety Director Ryan Murphy, who also directs the ordinance enforcement division.
“We are launching this crackdown on flagrant abusers of our rental law beginning immediately,” Murphy said. “Anyone we find engaging in short-term rental activities, including the posting of a short-term rental listings for this period, will be subject to significant financial penalties.”
On March 27, citing concerns about the area’s limited health care system and infrastructure, Schneiderman sent a letter, co-signed by many East End elected officials, to Governor Andrew Cuomo asking him to consider restrictions on nonessential travel from New York City, “including daily sightseeing visits and leisure travel to vacation homes.”
“We are all trying to flatten the curve as quickly as possible,” Schneiderman said. “It is made much more difficult when new people are constantly entering your community, particularly from a known coronavirus hotspot.”
Although the governor has not issued any of the requested travel restrictions, the supervisor said that “strictly enforcing our existing restrictions on short-term rentals will achieve a similar end and help protect our community.”
Schneiderman said the town would make a full exemption from the rental law if the rental is for health care workers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.