Vacation rental owners remain slow to register

Permits must be received by June 17

LAKE PLACID — A long-debated short-term vacation rental law went into effect here more than three weeks ago, but the anticipated flood of permit applications hasn’t followed.

The town of North Elba and village of Lake Placid’s joint Building and Planning Department has received just 12 applications for permits that would allow property owners to rent out their homes on sites such as Airbnb and VRBO, North Elba Code Enforcement Officer Mike Orticelle said Thursday.

Lake Placid had more than 600 active short-term rental properties in the first quarter of this year, according to AirDNA, a website that aggregates data from Airbnb and VRBO.

“I don’t know that people are aware,” Orticelle said of the permit requirement. Also, he said, property owners might still be gathering documentation required by the application process, such as site plans or inspection reports. “There is plenty of time to get the paperwork in.”

Every short-term rental owner must have a permit by June 17. That deadline might be revisited because of the coronavirus, according to Orticelle.

The Building and Planning Department is still fielding applications for a short-term rental appeals board. If property owners’ permit applications are denied or they receive notice of a violation that requires suspending operation, they can appeal to this board, which will have power to overturn the Building and Planning Department’s ruling. Orticelle said five people have expressed interest in serving on the board as of Thursday. Anyone else interested in applying is encouraged to submit a letter of intent and a resume showing applicable experience to planning@northelba.org.

Permit application paperwork and a digital copy of the full local short-term vacation rental law is available online at northelba.org under the Building and Planning Department tab.

Tension heightens

Tension between longtime residents and those who rent out local properties online has been long-simmering. Concern over the coronavirus has added a new element to that.

Debate over the new vacation rental regulations spanned more than a year. Hundreds of people attended a series of three public hearings on the topic. The debate also spurred multiple legal battles, including one between homeowners in the historic Signal Hill neighborhood and an out-of-town short-term vacation rental owner who sought “boarding house” status for her property — which some residents believed would grant the property immunity from future rental regulations.

The idea became prevalent among some locals that short-term vacation rentals are the root cause of some of this town’s critical woes — like the lack of affordable housing for workers, declining school enrollment and the declining year-round population.

A housing needs assessment, put together by Saratoga Springs consultants Camoin310 earlier this year, pointed to short-term vacation rentals not as a cause of Lake Placid’s housing shortage but a factor that exacerbated its severity.

That tension has ignited again with concern mounting over the coronavirus. The town of North Elba had the most cases of COVID-19 in Essex County as of Wednesday, with four test-confirmed and one suspected. Some residents have taken to social media to vent about what they see as a lack of care for locals’ health from some rental owners, or placed yard signs outside houses asking the people there to stay home.

Officials ask for halt in bookings

Two of the largest Lake Placid-based real estate agencies — Merrill L. Thomas and Berkshire Hathaway Adirondack Properties — have both stopped accepting bookings for vacation rental properties, according to owners Nicholas Politi and Margie Philo, respectively.

On Airbnb, the number of active rental listings with Lake Placid addresses has plummeted in recent weeks, from more than 300 last month to 141 as of Thursday. The number of listings on Vrbo, however, remained above 300 on Thursday.

Essex County lawmakers asked short-term vacation rental owners last month to remove online listings entirely, and to stop renting out their properties for the time being.

It’s unclear how many of the rental owners with active listings are still accepting bookings. Some listings note, either in the title or in the description of the property, that bookings will not be accepted until June or later. But not all of them have that disclaimer.

Village Trustee Jason Leon asked village Attorney Janet Bliss on Monday what the village could do to take action against rental owners who, he said, were seeking to leverage the epidemic for economic gain. Bliss’ answer was straightforward: The village could legally do nothing.

In a joint letter to the public, published in the Enterprise Thursday, the North Elba Town Board implored both rental and hotel owners who are accepting bookings for non-essential workers to stop doing so.

“We are all experiencing economic hardships due to this pandemic, and we realize this applies to you as well,” the letter reads. “Renting your property presents an opportunity to alleviate this stress, but properties that continue to rent only increase and escalate the divide and contention within this community. You are putting our fellow residents in danger.

“Through remarks made at public hearings and your written comments, you state you are part of this community and call attention to your love, appreciation and commitment to Lake Placid and its people. We believe you.

“Now is the time to step up and let your actions speak louder than your words.”


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