Vacation renter speaks out against regulations

LAKE PLACID — Amanda Cassidy has been using her house at Otter Landing as a vacation rental for just over a year. Her husband Seann is a supervisor for a post office, and she is a server. They also have a son who attends a private college. Cassidy said the income made from the vacation rental is less extra money and more of a necessity to pay her bills and son’s education.

“It is a regular income, and we rely on it a lot,” Cassidy said. “There are a lot of reasons why we rent out. We live in the village, so we pay village taxes, town taxes and school taxes.”

The village of Lake Placid and the town of North Elba are in talks to pass a local law that would regulate how vacation rentals operate. Right now, Essex County collects a 3 percent occupancy tax on vacation rentals, but that’s the extent of government involvement.

Though the more than 800 vacation rentals are economic bolsters, the two communities have been feeling the effects of unregulated 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, some of those who own vacation rental properties think regulations can put a damper on their businesses. Cassidy believes it shouldn’t be anybody else’s decision with what she does with her property.

“It’s none of their [business],” she said. “I am the homeowner. This is my home.”

Cassidy started renting out her home in September of 2017. She’s registered on both Airbnb and VBRO, two websites that connect visitors with short-term renters. She said most of the people in her neighborhood are vacation renters. Cassidy has enjoyed not only the money, but the company with guests as well, which she said has been pleasant and rewarding.

“We’ve had some Olympic athletes and people from other countries stay here,” she said. “(The guests) have use of our big fire pit out there, and we’ve got Kan-Jam in the summer and horseshoes and a grill. I would say 80 percent of the time we join them — initiated by them, you know. We’ve had wonderful experiences.

“We just made ‘superhost, too.”

Superhost is a superlative achieved by well-liked property renters on Airbnb — kind of like how the ride-share app Uber lets you rate drivers and passengers.

Cassidy said she also suffers from medical issues that make renting out her home a viable and lucrative option.

“Sometimes it’s really hard for me to work outside the home,” she said. “This has personally been a very good job for me because I can work at home.”

However, there are some inconveniences Cassidy said her family faces when they have guests. She gives the entire upstairs to the renters, which includes the kitchen, the master bedroom and a bathroom with a shower, while her family resides downstairs. She lets guests stay for a maximum of four days, so she can eventually bathe and use the kitchen. She’s currently trying to expand the downstairs bathroom into a full bath.

“We can wash our hair in the sinks down there, but four days is the max for us,” she said.

The Lake Placid Village Board of Trustees and North Elba Town Council met earlier this month publicly to discuss a draft law for regulations.

It’s worth noting that the majority of trustees and councilmen also work in the hospitality and real estate industries. Village Mayor Craig Randall owns the Northway Motel. Trustee Art Devlin owns the Olympic Motor Inn. Trustee Peter Holderied owns the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort. Town Supervisor Roby Politi runs Merril L. Thomas Real Estate and employs Councilman Bob Miller as a broker. Councilman Derek Doty is a caretaker for a vacation rental.

During the meeting, the two groups discussed and agreed upon multiple aspects of a draft law. Some of the more notable points include: a vacation rental shall be a minimum of three nights, a contact person such as the owner or a caretaker must be within 30 minutes of the property by car in case of emergencies and renting requires a permit, which cost $100 per room per year.

Cassidy, while not in attendance at the meeting, didn’t appreciate these points too much. Currently, her minimum stay is two nights. She said this works best for people who want to come Friday and leave Sunday morning.

“They leave Sunday because they have lives,” she said. “They have to work. It’s up to each individual renter what they want to do.”

During the meeting, Trustee Scott Monroe questioned the three-night minimum as well, making the same point as Cassidy.

As for the permit cost, Cassidy said the three sets of taxes she and many others pay is already enough.

“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “No.”

However, even though Cassidy believes rules should be at the discretion of the property owner, she did agree with some ideas like no rental shall exceed 16 occupants, outdoor parties and events can’t go past 10 p.m. and no cars parked on lawns.

Hillcrest Avenue off of Saranac Avenue is often brought up a major problem area in terms of vacation rentals. Many of the houses there are large and can accommodate more than 20 guests, but the road is narrow and dozens of parked cars exacerbate traffic issues. Cassidy agrees Hillcrest is a problem area, but she doesn’t think that one neighborhood should reflect the rest of the vacation rental community.

“I honestly couldn’t think of any other place that is a problem area,” she said.

The village and town are expected to have a public hearing on a proposed law in January. Politi said if passed, the law would go into effect in March but really start to take shape by the summer.