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Short-term rentals

Huntington resident Dany Smith speaks in favor of allowing short-term rentals like Airbnb. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Huntington residents are split over the town’s attempts to increase regulation on short-term home rentals, like Airbnb, on the matter of safety versus financial security. 

Huntington Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) has put forth legislation that proposed to further limit the number of days that a property may be leased as a short-term rental from 120 down to 90. A Feb. 13 public hearing held on the proposed law drew a divided crowd.

“It is a step in the right direction, but we need to go a step further,” Diane Lettieri, of Dix Hills, said.

The safety issues this practice raises are beyond belief.”

— Diane Lettieri

Lettieri said she lives three houses down from 2 Langhans Court in Dix Hills where a man was shot at a party hosted in the backyard of a property that had been rented out in August 2018. She’s had several meetings with Huntington officials asking for short-term rentals through companies like Airbnb, VRBO, Tripping.com and numerous others to be banned for the safety of the community.

“Homeowners renting out rooms is putting strangers in our neighborhoods and inside their homes,” Lettieri said. “The safety issues this practice raises are beyond belief.”

However, homeowners across town have a very different perspective on how short-term rentals through Airbnb can be beneficial in providing security. Cold Spring Harbor resident Philip Giovanelli said he’s hosted guests as his home since the town first addressed the topic nearly two years ago. He added he’s in full compliance with town code.

“Since that first hearing, I’ve turned 65, I’m a senior and I’ve developed a disability,” he said. “I depend on income from Airbnb.”

Giovanelli said his property’s close proximity to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has led to an interesting array of researchers and doctors seeking a temporary place to stay in his residence.

“I would have to restrict a cancer researcher from England or China from staying, saying we have no room as we’ve expended our time, we’re over the limit,” he said. “These people are important to the community and to the rest of the world.

Huntington resident Dany Smith also spoke out in favor of supporting short-term rentals as she hosts guests to help supplement her income. In 2018, Smith said she rented out two rooms in her home for a total for 111 days.

“I read the options for the amendments and I agree with all of them except for one,” she said. “I hope you reconsider the limit from 120 to 90 days.”

Smith is in favor of suggested changes to give code enforcement officers better tools to police these rented abodes and would prevent those hosts found in violation of federal, state or local laws from reapplying for a new short-term rental permit for one year.

I read the options for the amendments and I agree with all of them except for one. I hope you reconsider the limit from 120 to 90 days.”

— Dany Smith

For Justine Aaronson, a Dix Hills resident, the town’s proposed changes still come up short. She presented a petition signed by more than 1,800 residents to the Town Clerk Jo-Ann Raia (R).

“We need you to protect children in our residential communities and keep the quality of life for residents who prefer a community feeling, not a motel,” she said.

Aaronson said one of her neighbors can be found advertising a room for rent at $45 a night. She suggested if the town will not ban such behavior, to at least place further limits such as a 14-day minimum stay or no rentals for period of less than 29 days.

While the proposed legislation suggests scaling back a room leased under short-term rentals from 120 to 90 days of a calendar year, there is no minimum or maximum stay. In addition, it does state that a property owner, or host, “may apply to the director for a hardship exemption” around the rules.

The Huntington town council reserved their decision for a later date.

“I’m hoping if this does get amended and we lower the days to 90, we don’t continue lowering the days,” Smith said. “I’ll have to move off Long Island.”

Image from Airbnb

Huntington residents came to clear the air at a town board meeting Jan. 11, after Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) scheduled a public hearing for a resolution to ban the use of short-term rentals like Airbnb in the town.

In the resolution, the town sought to regulate temporary rental properties in order to protect the safety, health and welfare of Huntington residents. The town board “finds the increase in residential homes being rented for short periods of time detrimentally affects the quality of life in the neighborhoods in which they occur,” according to the resolution.

Residents spoke in opposition to the resolution during the hearing.

“I started hosting for economic reasons but have found it to be a very positive experience,” Michael Krasowitz, a Huntington Station resident said. “I feel like I’m an ambassador for the Town of Huntington. When they come I take them in my car, I drive them around, I show them the beaches, the restaurants, and they appreciate that — to learn about the town. For me it’s a way of engaging new people. So far it’s been a positive experience and the people have really enjoyed it.”

Alison Rexler, a former Walt Whitman resident, said Airbnb is more than just an enjoyable way to spend time for her — it’s a necessity to survive.

“I was planning on purchasing my own home and unfortunately my mortgage fell through and I found myself basically homeless,” she said at the meeting. “I have been unable to find a lease in an apartment that would rent for less than a year. Airbnb is my only solution. I have a daughter I would like to be able to visit. I have cats I would like to be able to visit. I have family and friends here. Airbnb has allowed me to stay with my family and friends and stay within the community. Without it I don’t know where I’d be but truly homeless at the moment. It is serving a need that you cannot anticipate.”

Janet Bernardo, a Fort Salonga resident, said her guests help contribute to an increase in revenue for small businesses.

“I am so excited I get to share my space, my home, my view, the marshland, the preserve, all the local stores that my guests go to,” she said. “I can’t imagine any of the local shop owners have any concerns about all these additional people coming into the town. I can’t figure out why the town would want to put a ban on it.”

Before the public hearing, Cuthbertson said he created this proposal in reaction to concerns from residents.

“It came about because of a number of constituent complaints we had received,” he said. “I asked the town attorneys office to draft legislation and frankly the easiest way to draft that legislation was in the most restrictive manner which is a ban.”

He said the town can always reduce the amount of restrictions, but it’s easier for the town to start at a full ban and work its way backward.

“I have a very open mind about something less than a ban,” he said. “We’re here to weigh the quality of life concerns of transient rentals and off street parking and really balance them against I’m sure some of the very good arguments.”

According to the company’s website, Airbnb, which was founded in 2008, is a community marketplace for people to list, discover and book housing accommodations around the world for varying lengths of time.

After hearing reactions from the public, Cuthbertson said he is willing to consider drafting legislation that is not an outright ban.

“Based on the valuable public input we received, I am considering measures that would regulate Airbnb operations instead of banning them all together,” he said in an email. “The town needs to pass legislation that strikes a balance between someone who plays ‘host’ to sharing their residence versus someone who operates as the equivalent of a hotelier. Public safety and quality of life issues will also play an integral part of this legislation.”

No decision has been reached regarding going forward with a ban.