Dozens show for vacation rental meeting

The Lake Placid Village Board of Trustees and the North Elba Town Council discuss vacation rentals at a special joint meeting at the North Elba Town Hall Thursday evening. More than 50 members of the public showed up to watch and listen. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

LAKE PLACID — More than 50 people crowded into the meeting room at the North Elba Town Hall. There weren’t enough chairs, so some stood in the back of the room, others peered through the doorway from the hall, and one lady sat on the floor. They were all there to learn how the North Elba Town Council and the Lake Placid Village Board of Trustees were going to fix issues related to the growing vacation rental and Airbnb market.

About three years ago, the vacation rental market took off in the Adirondacks. Since then, Lake Placid and North Elba have been feeling the effects of unregulated rental short-term rentals. People are no longer selling their homes but rather renting them out. This drives up property values, making it hard to afford a home here. Sometimes the properties are rented out to too many guests, which can create crowded side streets, fire hazards and noise problems. These housing market issues have caused ripples throughout the community, from annoyed longtime locals to diminishing public school enrollment to a short-staffed village police department.

However, there are more than 800 vacation rentals in the area, which add greatly to the town and village’s economies. Simply banning short-term rentals wouldn’t be financially sound at this point.

North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi figured many of the people showed up thinking they could comment on the vacation rental market or what a regulation package should include.

“This is not a public hearing,” he announced before getting into any of the details of the draft. “This is a joint town-village special meeting, and the purpose is to draft a finalized law. Then we’ll set a public hearing for discussion and comment at a later date in January.”

That wasn’t a deterrent, however, as the majority of the public stayed to the end of the two-hour meeting — although you could hear comments whispered throughout the whole time.

Also involved in the discussion were North Elba Code Enforcement Officer Mike Orticelle and Lake Placid/North Elba Community Development Commission Director Dean Dietrich. That commission wrote the original draft for the law and has made plenty of suggestions.

Although vacation rentals are technically commercial properties like a hotel or motel, they haven’t been treated as such. A new law would hold them to a substantially equivalent standard.

Here are few of the more notable points and explanations from the draft law:

• A short-term rental is a property that rents to a tenant for less than 30 days.

• Short-term property owners will require a permit that lasts for two years from the date of issue.

• You can’t get a permit unless you’re registered with the Essex County occupancy tax.

• The code enforcement officer can suspend and revoke permits.

• The price of a permit is $100 per bedroom in the property per year.

• The number of people allowed in one property will be based on a combination of sleeping rooms and bathrooms.

• No property shall exceed 16 occupants.

Village Trustee Scott Monroe questioned the pricing for permits, saying many of the smaller properties that have only two or three bedrooms do more businesses than the larger vacation rentals.

The occupancy limit sparked a discussion from town Councilman Derek Doty. He is the caretaker for a vacation rental that often has more than 20 people renting it out at once. He asked how the group decided upon 16 as the maximum number for occupancy.

“Sixteen is a suspect number,” he said.

Dietrich said once a property reaches 16 people, it should be considered a boarding house, not a vacation rental. Boarding houses have already established guidelines.

“Our thought was that they should be boarding houses and more restrictive for safety purposes.”

Here are some more aspects of the draft law:

• Owners renting their properties for less than 14 days a year would require a no-cost permit.

• Property inspections would be at the discretion of the code enforcement officer.

• If a property owner receives complaints, he or she can be fined or put in jail for up to 15 days.

• A short-term rental has to be a minimum of three days.

Monroe questioned this, too, saying many people tend to come Friday and leave Sunday afternoon.

“This type of restriction might benefit bed-and-breakfasts and hotels while maintaining the Airbnbs,” Politi said. “Also, most issues have occurred with very, very short-term, one-night stays.”

• A contact person such as the owner or a caretaker must be within 30 minutes of the property by car in case of emergencies. The Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department would keep records of all contact people.

• No parking on lawns.

• Owners would submit a “good neighbor” policy to their renters.

• Events such as parties and weddings at vacation rentals can’t go past 10 p.m.

The “good neighbor” policy goes over conditions like noise ordinances, keeping the property clean and being respectful to neighbors. Many realty companies in the area already have similar policies.

After public hearings at the start of next year, Politi said the village and town are expected to have the new local law set by March. He said it’ll take until about the summer to have everything operational the way the law explains.

Annual events such as the Ironman triathlon and the Lake Placid Summit Lacrosse tournament have visitors booking vacation rentals sometimes a year in advance. Politi said if a property owner can provide proof of the reservation before the installment of the law, then certain aspects such as maximum occupancy numbers would be disregarded.

By the end of the meeting, both the town and village boards seemed to be on the same page as to what they want the law to address. Politi described it as a “living document,” saying it’s not going to be perfect when it first comes out, but they can add changes to it in the future.

Village Mayor Craig Randall said he thinks the council and the board see eye-to-eye and added that he enjoyed how many people showed up for the meeting.

“It’s validation of the sincere interest on the part of the residents in terms of what we’re doing with vacation rentals,” he said. “This issue goes all the way back to about 2006, and it’s grown from a concern to something the community clearly wants addressed.”