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Seaside Heights Adopts New Rental Restrictions Following ‘Prom Rental’ Incidents

A sign on a home in Seaside Heights advertising prom rentals, June 2, 2022. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

A sign on a home in Seaside Heights advertising prom rentals, June 2, 2022. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

In addition to new measures that impose a youth curfew, limit access to beaches at night and give police the ability to shut down the Seaside Heights boardwalk if conditions grow out of control for police, the borough adopted new rental policies aimed at further cracking down on “prom rentals” that have plagued the borough for years.

Several seasons ago, the borough council adopted an ordinance limiting rentals to those 18 or older, mandating someone of that age be on premises for the entirety of the rental. They did so after considering a 21-year-old age limit, but faced threats of lawsuits from rental home and motel owners and held off. On Wednesday, the council unanimously raised the rental age to 21, but only for the period between April 1 and June 30, when post-prom and graduation parties have grown out of control and officials said parents shrug responsibility for the trouble their teens cause once they arrive.

The rental ordinance does not eliminate short-term rentals, a measure that had been considered but ultimately shelved in light of the new policies implemented this week – as well as some that are expected to be introduced in the coming weeks.

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“We didn’t want to do that at this point,” Mayor Anthony Vaz said, referring to a short-term rental ban. “We wanted to strengthen our ordinance, evaluate it once it’s implemented, and go from there.”

The age limit for rentals will apply equally to private homes, rentals through Airbnb and similar websites as well hotels and motels.

Under the new ordinance, property owners must apply to the borough for a license, undergo a home inspection sign a document agreeing to comply with the regulations, said Borough Administrator Christopher Vaz. The ordinance also requires property owners to register with the town the names of the tenants who will be occupying properties and their ages when a rental turns over.

“One of the issues is that people who are Aibnb-ing are thinking that the problems aren’t theirs,” said Councilman Richard Tompkins, referring to property owners who believe services like Airbnb and VRBO assume responsibility for tenants. “If you have a code enforcement issue, a garbage issue, anything else, it’s not their problem – it’s your problem.”

Property owners, including those who rent their homes using the services, were generally in favor of the ordinance. Many shared stories of tenants simply lying on rental forms, necessitating the removal of tenants after viewing live security feeds of their homes.

Brian Stewart, a rental property owner, said he has 14 cameras at his property.

“They’ve caught two attempted murders off my cameras – one last year and another last week,” he said.

A sign advertising prom and summer rentals in Seaside Heights. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

A sign advertising prom and summer rentals in Seaside Heights. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

A Sampson Avenue property owner said their security cameras showed 15 juveniles at the property one night, followed by 24 the next. The tenants were removed. Another resident said up to 70 juveniles packed into one rental property, and yet another said she witnessed renters charging their own guests to buy wristbands to gain access to a party.

Parents, the owners agreed, can sometimes make the issues even worse.

“Mommy showed up next to us and brought cases upon cases of Truly, and we all knew those kids weren’t of age,” said resident Joanne Richardson.

Like the companion ordinance imposing the curfew, the sole dissenter was Stephen Melvin, an Irish immigrant who owns Three Brothers From Italy Pizza, who compared the new laws to discriminatory policies that once produced signs stating “No Irish Need Apply.”

“You’re old enough to die and put your life on the line, but you’re not old enough to rent in our town because of one bad weekend with a couple of kids,” he said. “You see what’s happening with Russia and the war – a lot of those kids from Ukraine worked for me, and some of them are not here anymore. Some have died.”

“If you act like an arse, it might cost you some money, but you don’t throw them all away,” he said. “Most of these kids are great. They have a joke to tell you, they apologize if they did something wrong.”

Officials, however, have pointed to incidents where business owners have felt intimidated by large groups of teens who refused to leave their stores, some of whom were caught of video making fun of immigrant business owners.

The new regulations come as Seaside Heights is experiencing a building boom where many motels are being demolished in favor of high-end rental homes and mixed-use communities. There are also plans for more upscale hotels. For officials, the era of redevelopment cannot be threatened by images of debauchery on the streets going viral on social media and hitting the press.

“This needs to be a family town and we’re going to make it a family town,” said Councilman Richard Tompkins, who spoke of a window of time to turn around the borough’s reputation. “We love our businesses tremendously, but they have to understand that people live here – we can work together, and that’s the most important thing for this town to remember.”

“The total environment of this borough needs to be tightened up,” said resident Richard Sasso. “This is the moment when the banner of ’Sleazeside’ should be retired forever.”

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