A three-year effort to enforce short-term rental rules in Stamford
One day in 2019, Leonard DiPreta’s wife, Marilyn, heard a knock on the door of their Wildwood Road home.
She opened it to see two young couples. They said something weird.
“We are here to rent your house for the weekend.”
Leonard joined his wife at the door.
“I asked them, ‘What number are you looking for?’ They said, ‘368.’ I said, ‘It’s the house across the street.’ It was the first time something had gone wrong. »
The incident launched a three-year saga for DiPreta, 94, taking him back to his days as a city building inspector.
This was in the 1960s when the building code was still being developed. DiPreta enforced zoning regulations as they were drafted. In 1988 he became Stamford’s first Land Use Administrator, now called Zoning Enforcement Officer.
Today, DiPreta, in his ninth decade, has tackled a zoning case with a lot of sense – and little success.
This is the management by the city of the activity in the house opposite.
“Marilyn and I were wondering what would happen to it” in the months before the couples appeared on their front porch, DiPreta said. “The woman who had lived there for a long time had died and the house had been vacant for two years.”
He started to investigate. He learned that Joydev Mitra bought 368 Wildwood Road in 2018. City property records show the 2,100 square foot ranch sold for $315,100. Built in 1955, it sits on a rural North Stamford acre.
Mitra worked on the house for several months, DiPreta said, but when it was finished she didn’t move in.
Soon more people arrived at the DiPretas’ house, mistaking it for 368 Wildwood Road and saying they had come for the weekend. Others parked in the DiPretas’ driveway and got out of their cars carrying their bags.
Neighbors told DiPreta that strangers were wandering their yard, looking out their windows and trying their doorknobs, trying to get into what they thought was 368 Wildwood. Neighbors said strangers sometimes walked straight into their homes while they were having dinner or watching TV.
People looking for 368 Wildwood mixed up the houses, as it’s hard to find an address in the wooded area of North Stamford. Numbered mailboxes are all on the same side of narrow, winding streets to make mail delivery safer for Postal Service workers.
DiPreta thought 368 Wildwood Road could be a rooming house. But one of his children found him listed on Airbnb, an online platform where hosts rent space in their homes to travelers.
Silent Town Hall
DiPreta began contacting officials in then-Mayor David Martin’s administration, questioning whether such use of a single-family home was permitted in North Stamford.
He called the zoning officials. He wrote them letters. He sent them an email. He went to the town hall and waited in their offices.
A few officials who picked up the phone said they would meet with him, but didn’t, DiPreta said. Some spoke to him but did not respond. Others simply ignored it.
“That turned out to be the story – getting no response from city hall,” DiPreta said.
In 2020, he met a neighbor who had just moved next door to 368 Wildwood Road. The neighbor, who did not want his name published for fear of reprisal, told DiPreta what he had seen.
The backyard at 368 Wildwood has a hot tub where people hang out until 3 a.m., drinking and screaming and engaging in lewd behavior, the man said. People smoke weed and blast music late into the night, he said. Delivery drivers are knocking on the doors of surrounding homes, sometimes at 2 a.m., bringing food to what they believe to be 368 Wildwood Road, the man said.
At the end of 2021, he and DiPreta were contacting officials in the administration of Mayor Caroline Simmons, who took office at that time.
DiPreta has notes showing that he called the zoning enforcement officer, the head of the land use office, the chairman of the zoning board, his municipal representative, the director of the administration office and the North Stamford Association. He filled out a form on Fix-It Stamford, the city’s online citizen complaints portal, requesting zoning enforcement. In response, he received a note that read, “Good news! Your request… has been marked as complete.
“I tried to respond to ask how this was resolved,” DiPreta said. “But no one answered.”
He found zoning regulations had changed to accommodate what officials call “short-term rentals” after complaints about Airbnb abuse in other neighborhoods.
“Short-term rentals are only allowed if the owner lives in the house,” DiPreta said.
This applies to Wildwood Road, which is in an RA-1 area. Section 5-45 of the Amended Zoning By-law states: “No short-term rentals are permitted in Zones RA-3, RA-2, RA-1, R-20, R-10, R- 7½ or R-6. districts, unless the short-term rental operator resides in that short-term rental property at all times when the guests occupy that property. »
A response, of sorts
Last spring, DiPreta thought the city was finally paying attention.
Land Use Inspector Daniel Trapp attended at 368 Wildwood Road and then, on April 12, 2022, posted a cease and desist order at the door. He said any illegal activity on the property must stop and violations must be corrected, or else the law will apply.
But things stopped there, DiPreta said.
“I was told the owners had provided the city with an affidavit that they lived there, so the ceasefire was terminated,” DiPreta said. “But they don’t live there.”
According to Airbnb, the hosts at 368 Wildwood Road are Joydev Mitra, known as JD, and his wife, Michelle. Their Airbnb profiles show they live in New Rochelle, NY
Stamford property records list the owner as Joydev Mitra with an address in New Rochelle.
The mailbox at 368 Wildwood Road has three names; Mitra’s name is crossed out.
“The postman told me the post office had a forwarding address for Mitra,” DiPreta said. “Their mail goes to New Rochelle.”
On the Airbnb site, Michelle Mitra announces two other properties that she hosts, one in New York and another in Texas. For the Wildwood Road property, the Mitras charge between $212 and $245 a night and $1,225 for five nights, plus a $180 cleaning fee and a $198 service fee. There is a $250 fee for using the hot tub and $250 for bringing a dog.
City property records show the home has three bedrooms and two bathrooms. But it’s advertised on Airbnb as four bedrooms and three bathrooms, with space for eight beds that sleeps eight to 10 people.
DiPreta’s neighbor said the owners “used the property to make money, not caring about the neighborhood or their neighbors.”
Calls to phone numbers obtained for Mitra were not returned.
What, no socks?
DiPreta has a receipt showing that he sent a certified letter to Simmons late last year saying “your intervention is needed to resolve and enforce an ongoing violation of zoning bylaws regarding short-term rentals.” But the receipt is not signed.
“As far as I know, the certified letter never reached the mayor,” DiPreta said.
Lauren Meyer, Simmons’ special assistant, said Thursday “this is an ongoing matter that may result in further action by the city.”
The Land Use Bureau received an email from one of the landlords on Thursday saying she lives in the house with her husband and a couple who have two young children and a three-month lease, with an option to extend for six months, Meyer said. The office asked the landlord to provide a copy of the lease, Meyer said.
DiPreta said he will continue to push for a resolution. Marilyn, his wife of 70 years, died in 2021 at age 89.
“She helped me build this house,” said DiPreta, who was a carpenter and home builder before becoming a zoning enforcement officer. “She helped me fell the trees and pour the foundations. She dipped the shingles in the stain and let them dry, and I installed them. This house means a lot to me.
The city failed to properly investigate 368 Wildwood Road, he said.
“When I was a zoning enforcement officer, two realtors got into a fight and asked me to go to a house. The regulations say you can have a real estate office in a house if you live in the house” , DiPreta said. “They showed me a closet but there were no shoes in there. There was no office. I said, ‘Isn’t this guy wearing underwear? Where does he put his socks? It was clear he didn’t live there. Just look at the evidence.