A Manhattan man’s nightmare that began after the apartment he rented out using an online service has implications for would-be landlords and policymakers on the South Fork. Ari Teman is now faced with eviction and living in a hotel room after someone who rented his Seventh Avenue pad via Airbnb used it to host a for-profit orgy.
Airbnb, Homeaway, VRBO, and other short-term-rental services have become ubiquitous in places like New York City — and the Hamptons — where there are more people trying to visit than there are reasonably priced hotel rooms during peak periods. And, while few South Fork visitors are likely to be hosting pay-to-play sex parties, would-be tenants here are often quite open about plans that fall on the wrong side of local laws.
For example, many potential lessees use online services to troll for houses where they can then illegally sell summer shares. Sure, East Hampton Town allows no more than four unrelated adults to occupy a dwelling, but landlords receive pitches all the time from people looking to get around this rule. Then there are the folks who offer to rent places for as little as a single night’s occupancy in what amounts to de facto hotels, which add to the general sense of overcrowding and bring neighborhoods unfair stress and traffic. It is a daunting problem.
This week, VRBO, short for Vacation Rentals by Owner, listed scores of houses in East Hampton Town that could be rented by the night or week — even though the legal limit is no more than two rentals of less than two weeks’ length in a six-month period. Elsewhere, Airbnb boasted more than 400 listings — excluding Amagansett and Montauk — many of which boasted photographs of the eager owners and identifiable street addresses.
Local officials, many of whom have been seeking ways to bring greater order and fewer crowds to summer on the South Fork, cannot continue to ignore these online marketplaces. One way to start getting things under control is by demanding that these companies refuse listings that obviously violate local ordinances, or at least by insisting that they post prominent disclaimers. Another way to get at the problem is to alert perhaps oblivious property owners in advance that they could be breaking the law by offering share-friendly houses or too many short-term stays.
East Hampton Town has worked long and hard to control its growth, which includes the high-season population. Every effort should be made to make sure that our summer numbers are in step with long-term goals and hard-won rules and regulations. The way to control the problem starts at its source, and that means taking on the online services that make it all possible in the first place.