Vacation rental regulations coming to Lake Placid, North Elba

An Airbnb rental on Main Street in Lake Placid is located in the same complex as the Coldwell Banker Whitbeck Associates real estate agency. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

LAKE PLACID — After many years of talking about how to manage the vacation rental market here, one official said a solution is coming.

North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi said the town and village could soon have a system in place so vacation rentals, via Airbnb and otherwise, are regulated by the code enforcement officer the way hotels and motels are.

“We’re pretty close to the permit system as well as regulating health and safety issues, parking issues and likely occupancy issues,” he said. “I think it’s being drafted right now by the attorneys, and then it will be reviewed by both boards, and there would have to be a public hearing, but hopefully, we would have it in place for 2019.

“I think that everyone feels that vacation rentals are a necessity for our community, but that they need to be regulated.”

Airbnbs and other vacation rentals have been on the rise in the town and village. While these temporary dwellings tend to offer cheap stays for visitors, they aren’t regulated like many other lodgings.

This house on Hillcrest Avenue in Lake Placid is an Airbnb rental. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

“Years ago it wasn’t an issue,” said village Mayor Craig Randall, “but they’ve become the norm, not only here but in most resort communities. I think we should be looking at them similar to our lodging industry — hotels and motels — all of which have public safety requirements that need to be met.”

In August 2017, the town and village had a meeting to discuss the future of vacation rentals and implementing some type of registry. Randall said the consensus was that regulations were desired. Since then, he said, the conversation seemed to drop off. He and the rest of the village board were unaware of the town’s plans for pursuing regulation.

In a separate phone interview while Randall was in Jerusalem for the Summer International Children’s Games, he said, “I’m happy to hear that the plans are moving forward, and I’m sure the village trustees will feel the same, but it appears that the supervisor had information the mayor didn’t.”

Randall said the number of Airbnbs in the town and village is growing.

“I was sitting down with [Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism CEO] Jim McKenna the other day, and we looked at the numbers,” he said. “There are more than 358 Airbnbs in Lake Placid, and most of these are in private homes.”

In 2016, Essex County began extended its 3 percent occupancy or “bed” tax to Airbnbs and other vacation rentals, just like it does with hotels and motels. The 3 percent goes toward ROOST, the county’s official tourism promoter.

Though they are taxed, currently vacation rentals are not required to undergo any official inspections. This can create problems such as too many people in a home or too many cars in a driveway. There are also no standards or practices for proper plumbing and electricity or fire safety.

Randall said these are safety concerns, and if there is an emergency at one of these properties, he doesn’t want firefighters going in without any knowledge of the building.

“I have my own business [the Northway Motel] that is inspected by the building code officer and the health department regularly,” Randall said.

Politi is also in the lodging industry. He owns a large real estate firm that deals partly in vacation rentals.

One of the prime locations where vacation rentals have dominated is Hillcrest Avenue — the neighborhood where Randall grew up.

“The problem is the houses are so big over there,” he said, “so as families move on, these large homes are often converted into vacation rentals. Now the bulk of Hillcrest is vacation rentals. The properties are approved as residences, but they’re operated like hotels. Many are not rented through a local real estate agency but on the internet. Sometimes the guest never even meets the owner, so if the house has a plugged toilet or a plugged sink, the village gets those calls.”

There is also the problem of obnoxious behavior.

“The other aspect is there is no one to control the properties, and they can become a real nuisance,” Randall said. “A local couple came to me after the Fourth of July and said people in a vacation rental next door were lighting off fireworks and the casings were falling on the couple’s property.”

To address the nuisances, Politi said there would be a system for formal complaints.

“You always have complaints no matter what,” he said. “We’re trying to reduce the complaints obviously. You can file a complaint, and they’re going to be requirements that when complaints are made that somebody has to respond within a timely manner.”

In a separate phone interview, Politi also mentioned the possibility of a three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy, where if a rental receives three complaints, then that person’s registration is revoked.

As for their economic impact, Randall said vacation rentals play a major role.

“It’s huge,” he said. “We believe that the number of beds that are provided by rentals is equivalent to the commercial lodgings in Lake Placid.”

Randall said he didn’t know if registration would lessen that impact.

“When it comes to enforcing people to apply and register,” he said, “we’re not going to know how successful it is until we do it. I think it will mature over time, but we won’t know until we install the program. There may have to be a regulatory penalty for those who don’t apply.”

Politi seemed surer.

“No,” he said. “I don’t think it’ll make a difference to people. I think that the permit fees are not so burdensome that it’s going to have any effect whatsoever.”

When it comes to permit fees, Politi said nothing is final at the moment, but the price of $100 has appeared in conversation.

Politi described the regulations as a work in progress.

“When we draft this law, is it going to be the final law?” Politi posed. “No. It’s like our zoning laws. You know, they’re constantly changing, and this law will change, too. But we’re starting. We’re going to have it in place, and we’re going to have one. There’s no question about that.”