Longport water tower

LONGPORT – Just a week after Ventnor City had a shooting at a beach block home rented for a single night, Longport officials discussed ways to control short-term rentals, which could be problematic for the normally quiet, wealthy hamlet.

Solicitor Pacifico “Pat” Agnellini asked the Board of Commissioners Wednesday, Jan. 9 to consider if the borough should beef up its ordinances to prevent large parties at upscale beach homes. Historically, Longport property owners rent their homes on a seasonal, monthly and weekly basis, he said.

“With the advent of the Internet and now with companies like Airbnb, it’s easy for people to rent on an even shorter-term basis directly with the homeowner. The question is, are we seeing any problems with that, and is there a need or desire to somehow regulate that more than we are doing now,” he said.

The borough already has a rental inspection ordinance on the books that requires property owners to get their homes inspected before anyone rents, but it does not recite the length of a lease. Inspection must be done within 10 days of the borough receiving an application for a certificate of rental occupancy to determine that the building is safe for habitation and that it complies with all applicable ordinances. Rental certificate fee is $75 and the penalty for non-compliance is $500.

Although the real estate agents providing rental services in the borough are aware of the ordinance and are diligent about notifying borough officials when they obtain a signed rental agreement, many homeowners who rent out their homes on their own through online platforms may not be aware of the ordinance, Agnellini said.

“There is a mechanism in place for us to provide some oversight over the rentals that are now starting to grow in numbers,” Agnellini said.

Mayor Nicholas Russo said property owners often let other family members and friends use their beach homes, and questioned if that should require an inspection.

Agnellini suggested the borough search Longport rentals on online platforms, such as Airbnb and VRBO, and notify listed property owners about the need to obtain a rental occupancy certificate.

Police Chief Frank Culmone said he is aware that large groups of teenagers are renting summer homes to have parties, but so far, there have been only a few instances where police had to respond to complaints of noise or parking violations.

“The problem is not the Realtors; they are responsible parties. But we have had a property where we’ve had multiple issues over the years and we are constantly at that property,” Culmone said.

He said the borough should consider an ordinance that not only protects homeowners from experiencing an incident like the one in Ventnor, but also ensures the property is safe for renters.

“Kids can rent a house on their own with a credit card and throw the biggest party anyone’s ever seen, and then what do we do,” he said.

Commissioner Dan Lawler said his own college-aged daughter kicked in $60 to attend a party at an Airbnb rental.

“The more kids, the less money it costs,” he said.

“We need to be proactive addressing the issue before something happens because the kids have the means to do it,” Culmone said.

Russo said the borough needs to respect the constitutional rights of private property owners.

“This will something that may be reactive,” Russo said, with police response triggered by complaints from neighbors. Also, he said, parties could be held at properties where certificates have been issued and recommended the borough’s existing ordinances be thoroughly reviewed before any new ordinances are proposed.

Agnellini said the borough needs to enforce the ordinance for everyone and that homeowners need to be educated not only about the requirement but also that they would be responsible if anything bad happened at their properties.

“We need a tool in our toolbelt…to protect ourselves and the homeowners,” Culmone said.

Borough engineer Richard Carter said Sea Isle City “made a huge advance” when it adopted an “Animal House” ordinance to protect the municipality from liability.

Agnellini suggested the borough notify all property owners about the ordinance in its next tax or utility billing cycle to inform them that they have an obligation to get a certificate of occupancy and that they are responsible for what goes on at their property.

The mayor agreed the borough should notify all property owners about the rental ordinance requirements, search rental platforms for properties being offered on a short-term basis and contact those homeowners electronically to inform them about the requirement for municipal inspection. Real estate agents should also be reminded about the requirement, he said.

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Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

Award winning journalist covering news, events and people of Atlantic County for more than 20 years.