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, ‘That’s the house across the street.’ It was the first tipoff that something was awry.”
The incident launched a three-year saga for DiPreta, 94, taking him back to his days as a city building inspector.
It was the 1960s, when the building code was still being drafted. DiPreta enforced zoning regulations as they were being written. In 1988, he became Stamford’s first land use administrator, now called zoning enforcement officer.
Now DiPreta, in his ninth decade, has taken on a zoning case with much meaning – and few successes.
It’s about the city’s handling of activity at the house across the street.
“Marilyn and I had been wondering what would happen with it” in the months before the couples appeared on their porch, DiPreta said. “The woman who lived there for a long time had died, and the house was vacant for two years.”
He began to investigate. He learned that Joydev Mitra purchased 368 Wildwood Road in 2018. City property records show that 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, did not move in.
Soon other people were arriving at the DiPretas’ house, mistaking it for 368 Wildwood Road and saying they had come for the weekend. Others pulled into the DiPretas’ driveway and got out of their cars carrying their bags.
Neighbors told DiPreta that strangers were wandering in their yards, peering in their windows, and trying their door handles, attempting to enter what they thought was 368 Wildwood. Neighbors said strangers sometimes walked right into their homes as they ate dinner or watched television.
People looking for 368 Wildwood were mixing up houses because finding an address in woodsy North Stamford is tricky. The numbered mailboxes are all on the same side of the narrow, curvy streets to make it safer for Postal Service workers to deliver the mail.
DiPreta thought 368 Wildwood Road might be a rooming house. But one of his children found it listed on Airbnb, an online platform where hosts rent space in their homes to travelers.
Silent city hall
DiPreta began to contact officials in the administration of then-Mayor David Martin, questioning whether such a use of a single-family home is allowed in North Stamford.
He called zoning officials. He wrote them letters. He emailed them. He went to city hall and waited in their offices.
A few officials who picked up the phone said they would meet with him, then didn’t, DiPreta said. Some spoke to him but failed to follow up. Others just ignored him.
“That turned out to be the story – getting no response from city hall,” DiPreta said.
In 2020 he met a neighbor who’d 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 saw.
The backyard of 368 Wildwood has a hot tub where people hang out until 3 a.m., drinking and shouting and engaging in lewd behavior, the man said. People smoke pot and blast music well into the night, he said. Delivery drivers knock on the doors of surrounding houses, sometimes at 2 a.m., bringing food to what they think is 368 Wildwood Road, the man said.
By 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 he called the zoning enforcement officer, the Land Use Bureau chief, the chairman of the Zoning Board, his city representative, the director of the Office of Administration, and the North Stamford Association. He filled out a form on Fix-It Stamford, the city’s online citizen complaint portal, requesting zoning enforcement. In response, he received a note that read, “Great news! Your request … has been reported as completed.”
“I tried to write back to ask how it was resolved,” DiPreta said. “But no one answered.”
He found out that zoning regulations had changed to address what officials call “short-term rentals” after complaints about Airbnb abuses in other neighborhoods.
“Short-term rentals are allowed only if the owner lives in the house,” DiPreta said.
That applies to Wildwood Road, which is in an RA-1 zone. Section 5-45 of the amended zoning regulations states: “No short-term rentals shall be permitted in the RA-3, RA-2, RA-1, R-20, R-10, R-7½ or R-6 zoning districts, unless the short-term rental operator resides in such short-term rental property at all times when guests occupy such property.”
A response, kind of
Last spring, DiPreta thought the city was finally looking into it.
Land Use Inspector Daniel Trapp visited 368 Wildwood Road then, on April 12, 2022, slapped a cease and desist order on the door. It said all unlawful activity on the property must stop and violations must be corrected, under penalty of law.
But things ended there, DiPreta said.
“I was told that the owners provided the city with an affidavit saying they live there, so the cease and desist was removed,” DiPreta said. “But they don’t live there.”
According to Airbnb, the hosts of 368 Wildwood Road are Joydev Mitra, known as JD, and his wife, Michelle. Their Airbnb profiles say they live in New Rochelle, N.Y.
Stamford property records list the homeowner as Joydev Mitra with a New Rochelle address.
The mailbox for 368 Wildwood Road has three names on it; Mitra’s name is crossed out.
“The mailman told me the post office has a forwarding address for Mitra,” DiPreta said. “Their mail goes to New Rochelle.”
On the Airbnb website, Michelle Mitra advertises two other properties that she hosts, one in New York and another in Texas. For the Wildwood Road property, the Mitras charge $212 to $245 a night, and $1,225 for five nights, plus a $180 cleaning fee and $198 service fee. There’s a $250 charge for using the hot tub and $250 to bring a dog.
City property records show the house has three bedrooms and two bathrooms. But it is advertised on Airbnb as four bedrooms and three bathrooms, with space for eight beds that can sleep eight to 10 guests.
DiPreta’s neighbor said the owners are “using the property to make money, with no regard for the neighborhood or their neighbors.”
Calls to phone numbers obtained for Mitra were not returned.
What, no socks?
DiPreta has a receipt showing he sent a certified letter to Simmons late last year saying “your intervention is required to resolve and enforce an ongoing violation of the zoning regulations regarding short-term rentals.” But the receipt is not signed.
“As far as I know, the certified letter never got to the mayor,” DiPreta said.
Lauren Meyer, Simmons’ special assistant, said Thursday “this is an ongoing matter which may result in further action from the city.”
The Land Use Bureau Thursday obtained an email from one of the owners saying she lives in the house with her husband and a couple that has two young children and a lease for three months, with an option to extend it by six months, Meyer said. The bureau asked the owner to provide a copy of the lease, Meyer said.
DiPreta said he’ll keep pushing 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 cut down the trees and pour the footings. She dipped the shingles in stain and put them out to dry, and I installed them. This house means a lot to me.”
The city has not properly investigated 368 Wildwood Road, he said.
“When I was a zoning enforcement officer, two real estate agents got into a squabble and asked me to go to a house. The regulation said 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 it. There was no bureau. I said, ‘Doesn’t this guy wear underwear? Where does he keep his socks?’ It was clear he didn’t live there. You just have to look at the evidence.”