There are perhaps hundreds of people engaged in the South Fork’s underground housing economy, at least if the online listings on Craigslist, Airbnb, and others are to be believed. An interesting account appeared in this newspaper last week about the now-ubiquitous short-term rental, in which landlords charge hundreds of dollars a night for temporary stays, turning ordinary houses on streets much like yours, no doubt, into hotels or motels, for all intents and purposes. What is baffling is why it is all so out in the open, despite local regulations barring the practice. The same question arises with summer share houses, which have flourished in the digital age.
One might ask, who does it hurt? Well, legitimate hotel owners, for one, who pay a 3-percent room tax to Suffolk County for above-board accommodations. Those in short-term rentals could find themselves in accommodations that are less than safe, though the occupants of legal month or two-month rentals, at least in East Hampton, could find themselves in the same situation. In a community already bursting to overflowing — and with its comprehensive plan unambiguously calling for limits to growth — the sky should not be the limit where total numbers of visitors are concerned.
In East Hampton Town, property owners are allowed no more than two rentals for less than two weeks in a single six-month period. It would hardly be difficult for town officials to send a polite e-mail reminder to those whose online booking calendars suggest they may be breaking the law. Heck, it would take a decent intern half a day to get the word out to a couple hundred with dodgy listings.
That the Ordinance Enforcement Department does not pay this any attention is either indifference or orders from above to look the other way. Whatever the reason, it is wrong and makes our town code appear to be optional. A little enforcement of the laws already on the books would help make the town a saner and safer place to spend the summer. Reining in illegal rentals and overcrowded shares would be a good way to start.