Seaside Heights officials held an open caucus meeting Wednesday, where officials and members of the public brainstormed ideas to help reign in foul behavior, primarily by teens, on the boardwalk and in the streets such as the near-mob-scene that erupted over Memorial Day weekend.
The council is most prominently considering restrictions on short-term rentals, similar to ordinances enacted in Point Pleasant Beach, Atlantic City, Jersey City. The borough council ultimately tasked Jean Cipriani, the borough attorney, with drafting an ordinance that will regulate rentals to a greater extent, including a potential ban on short-term rental agreements.
“There are two categories where the trouble has come from,” said Borough Administrator Christopher Vaz. “You have renters – the prom and graduation parties where the kids are showing up and staying here – and you have the problems with kids who come here from other towns and aren’t staying in Seaside Heights.”
The borough has battled so-called “prom rentals” in the past, passing an ordinance that limited rentals to those 18 and over and requiring a legal adult on premises. The council had sought to limit rentals to people aged 21 and over, but backed off after a vocal group of motel and rental home owners promised litigation. That regulations – a 21 age limit – is now back on the table in addition to the short-term rental regulations.
“On the rental side of things, council is going to consider a short-term rental ordinance,” said Vaz, with a measure intended to be introduced at the next borough council meeting later this month.
“When VRBO and Airbnb became a thing, we chose not to regulate it – the hope was that people who bought homes would move here year-round – and we’d watch it,” Vaz explained. “But that hasn’t happened. And it’s a problem because owners of the properties question us and ask, ‘Well, what am I supposed to do about it? I used Airbnb, I never met these people before.’”
“But it is their problem, and I explain that Airbnb might not be for them,” he said. “When they get a revocation of their mercantile license, who you rented the property through is not going to be a defense.”
Towns have implemented short-term rental ordinances in various ways, including outright banning overnight rentals, limiting rentals to three nights or seven nights, often excluding motels. Though they have become known nationally as “Airbnb” ordinances, they would apply to any licensed rental property in town, regardless of how tenants are solicited.
Residents at the meeting, which attracted a larger crowd than usual, suggested ideas ranging from a ban on backpacks that can be used to carry alcohol or illicit substances, to enacting a youth curfew similar to those adopted by Toms River and Lavallette.
Can a Curfew Work?
“They come here because they know they can’t be out up there,” one resident said, sharing stories of a young man being assaulted on his street and a couple attempting to have sex on the sidewalk in front of his home. “We have to have a curfew in town.”
“At the next meeting, one of the things we’re going to consider is a curfew,” said Mayor Anthony Vaz.
But Christopher Vaz, the administrator, said curfews in the same form as those in place in other towns comes with extra challenges in Seaside Heights. An ordinance would have to be adapted to Seaside Heights’ geography and layout – something the borough attorney will have to consider.
“It’s a balance. Seaside Heights, at the end of the day, is a boardwalk town,” he said. “What happens at 10 o’clock? Do you ask 10,000 people on the boardwalk to get their IDs out? It might work in Ortley Beach or other towns, but we have a boardwalk, and we also have good people who do not cause trouble and support businesses that are also run by good people trying to make a living.”
The council also considered the idea of banning backpacks, but likewise, faced the logistical task of either inspecting bags as people enter the boardwalk or turning away thousands of visitors who may not be aware of the regulation.
Officials are also considering what other cities across the country have called a “rental responsibility” ordinance. This regulation would entail a property owner notifying the town each time a rental changes over, and providing the name of the person responsible for the rental.
“This will force the owners to engage with the renter and submit something that confirms a change of renter, so we know they did their due diligence and we have contact information for a responsible party,” said Vaz.
The 21-year-old age limit may also be applied during certain times periods, such as “prom season” between April 30 and sometime in June.
Pushing for Better Laws
The borough may also begin vocally lobbying for the passage of legislation sponsored by state Assembly members Claire Swift and Don Guardian, and state Sen. Vince Polistina that would empower police to more effectively control rowdy teens in public places.
Police chiefs and mayors up and down the Jersey Shore have complained that laws passed with the aim of improving what some lawmakers see as social justice in inner city communities has had a disastrous effect on resort communities. Police officers are largely restricted from engaging with juveniles, and in some cases can themselves be charged with a third degree criminal offense if they violate the laws, which were passed during following the racial tensions in 2020.
The law proposed by the Atlantic County legislators would allow police officers to detain juveniles found to be in possession or under the influence of alcohol or drugs, confiscate the substances, issue a written warning and require a parent to be notified or – in some cases – pick up their children at a police station.
The intricate web of statutes, judicial decisions and policies ordered by the state attorney general’s office is one of the reasons Seaside Heights has not introduced new ordinances yet.
“We want to make sure everything we’re going to do is legal, and once we pass it, we have to make sure we enforce it,” Mayor Anthony Vaz said. “Then we have to wade through the menagerie of bad state laws.”
Vaz said the borough will try to rally its residents to support the proposed changes to state legislation and engage with assembly members and senators in local districts to push hard for their passage.
Regardless, the likelihood for the introduction of, potentially, multiple ordinances at the borough council’s next meeting is high.
“By the 21st [of June], the next meeting, we’ll introduce an ordinance,” the mayor said.