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Opponents speak out on Riverhead’s short-term rental law

Now that Riverhead Town Board members have added another residence on Creek Road in Wading River to the list of short-term rentals it plans to sue, property owners and renters are urging the board to reconsider its 2013 ban on residential rentals of fewer than 30 days.

Virginia Greico, who owns and manages short-term rental properties on the street, has started a Facebook petition against the town law and urged people to attend Tuesday’s Town Board meeting.

Her petition states that short-term rentals are a “150-year-old tradition” in Riverhead Town.

“One-week rentals, and weekend rentals, are a time-honored standard on the island and have been for over a century,” it reads. “A 29-night minimum rental violates the U.S. Federal Fair Housing Act as well as the New York State Division of Human Rights Fair Housing Act.”

As of Wednesday morning, 325 people had signed the petition, which aims for 500 signatures.

During the meeting, Michelle Belushio of Staten Island read aloud three letters opposing the town law. One, from Wading River Deli owner Patricia O’Brien, said short-term rentals benefit the local economy.

“The more people that come to our area, the greater the benefit,” Ms. O’Brien wrote.

Other speakers said most people can’t afford to take 30 days off from work and that the majority of vacations are around 10 days.

“I don’t want a hotel,” one said. “I’d rather stay on Creek Road.”

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said most of the people who once lived on the street have since been pushed out by short-term rentals, adding that he doesn’t recognize anyone there now.

Many of the houses being used for short-term rentals also have zoning code violations, Mr. Walter said.

“The law is in effect and we’re going to keep enforcing it,” he said.

Councilman John Dunleavy said he’s mainly concerned about safety.

“If every one of these homes had building inspections and were up to snuff, maybe we could do something,” he said. “But we’re not going to do anything until they’re all brought up to building code.”

The town enacted the 2013 ban in response to complaints from neighbors about quality of life issues related to short-term rentals, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said.

Councilman Tim Hubbard took a different stand from fellow board members, saying week-long rentals are more realistic than one month.

In August, the Town Board authorized legal action against eight Creek Road property owners they say are operating illegal short-term rentals. In January, board members added a ninth property to the list of residences it has authorized the town attorney to take to state Supreme Court. A 10th property was added Tuesday.

To date, the town has gone to court on only three of the cases.

Last year, the town was sued by Ms. Greico and Debbie Neihoff, who own the website luxurybeachfrontgetaway.com and alleged that the town law is in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.

That lawsuit was withdrawn in December. The women’s attorney, Salem Katsch, said this week that they can refile it at some point.

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