Minimum stay dropped from short-term rental regs

The Lake Placid Village Board of Trustees and North Elba Town Council meet at the North Elba Town Hall Tuesday to discuss revisions to proposed short-term rental regulations. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

LAKE PLACID — Revisions have been made to the proposed law that would regulate short-term rentals such as Airbnb, VRBO and other services in this village and the town of North Elba.

Some of the revisions were generic formatting issues — typos, misplaced punctuation, indents — but a few addressed concerns brought up at a public hearing in January such as a three-night minimum and the max number of occupants allowed in short-term rental.

The village Board of Trustees and the town council had a public meeting Tuesday to discuss the revisions. Town Justice Dean Dietrich was also there, representing the Lake Placid/North Elba Community Development Commission, the group that helped write the proposal.

Town Supervisor Roby Politi did not attend because of health issues, and Trustee Scott Monroe was absent, too.

About 30 people showed up at the hour-and-a-half-long meeting.

The hotly debated point of a three-night stay minimum was deleted from the proposal. Village Mayor Craig Randall said it’s not something the village could police in an effective way.

A provision that would limit the total number of overnight occupants in a short-term rental to 16 was also deleted. The total number of occupants is calculated by two times the number of bedrooms plus two. For example, if a house has three rooms, eight people can stay there. However, there also needs to be a full bathroom for every four occupants.

The fee for a short-term rental permit still has not been decided, and it most likely won’t get included into the local law. Village Attorney Janet Bliss said it would make more sense to make the permit fee a resolution rather than a piece of the law. That way it can be changed more easily if need be.

Permits would also not transfer when a house is sold. Town Attorney Ron Briggs said that keeps the permit from affecting a home’s property value.

Certain language on building requirements was replaced with “each sleeping room shall be in compliance with the New York State Building Code.” Town Code Enforcement Officer Mike Orticelle said the wording is a better blanket statement for code and safety requirements.

At one point, Briggs brought up a current case in the state Supreme Court Appellate Division between the town Zoning Board of Appeals and Northwood School. The school wants to turn a single-family home in a residential neighborhood into a dormitory, and the zoning board is unsure if that’s allowed. If the court rejects the dormitory, that decision could affect short-term rentals in single-family residential homes, too.

Randall said that decision, which should be made in the next 60 days, will let the town and village know what can operate in different zoning districts.

“What we’re talking about is changing the use of a residence to something that is not defined as a residence. It’s a dormitory,” he said. “It has a specific nature to it. I think vacation rentals are not a single-family residence when they’re operating as a business.”

The two boards hit somewhat of a wall when the topic of a maximum number of rental weeks came up, meaning how many weeks a person can rent out his or her home in a calendar year as a short-term rental.

In this proposal, a week doesn’t mean seven total days, but the actual calendar week.

“A week is a week,” Randall said, “and if you rent your home for two nights, it’s a week. If you rent your home for seven nights, it’s a week. I don’t know why anybody would want to rent for less than seven nights in that formula, but like I said, I think this is a topic that we will get more input in the next round of public hearings on this matter.”

Town Councilman Bob Miller suggested a maximum of 12 weeks, which could be a possible total of 84 days.

Dietrich said he received info from Airbnb that said homeowners in North Elba tend to rent out their places between 90 and 100 days a year.

“Those are admittedly skewed numbers, but it’s more than seven or eight days,” he said.

Randall suggested a maximum of eight weeks. He said that number was just to spark a reaction and discussion.

Town Councilman Derek Doty said it could be unfair to ask renters to choose which weeks they want to rent out.

After a while, the two boards split the difference and agreed on a 10-week maximum.

“The issue here is that we don’t have direct knowledge of the actual number of weeks that any property is rented. So if we put the number too high, we’ll never know,” Randall said. “Whereas when I suggested eight, I knew that was too low. But I think the compromise will accomplish what I was hoping it would do, which is to leave that for a public hearing so that we get a response from the property owners that are actually doing short-term vacation rentals. They’ll let us know if it isn’t right.”

There’s not yet a plan on how to do it, but many of the trustees and council members would like to see a system that identifies rental owners as either full-time residents or those who buy property in the village and town but don’t actually spend much time there. One of the concerns is that conglomerates are buying up properties and renting them out short-term, taking housing away from people would potentially live here year-round.

There’s no exact date for the next public hearing on this proposed law, but Randall said perhaps sometime in early May. Randall and village Trustee Art Devlin still hope to have a law on the books by summer. However, the full effects probably wouldn’t be seen till the start of 2020, Randall said.