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Saranac Lake considers short-term rental regulation

SL considers short-term rental regulation

SARANAC LAKE — The village board is considering regulation of short-term vacation rentals and will hold a public work session Monday to discuss a possible STR permit system.

This will not be a public comment session, but there will be a public hearing before the law is voted on. Public comment can also be made at regular board meeting or by sending mail or email to the village clerk.

STRs are a hot topic in the Tri-Lakes, which has an economy heavily reliant on tourism. In nearby Lake Placid some residents say the rentals eat up the affordable housing stock and cause problems with neighbors. Others say they rely on the income they get by renting out their home, part of their home or second home, and that it allows for more visitors.

“It’s a big job. It’s going to have a lot of discussion,” village Mayor Clyde Rabideau said. “There are people fervently on either side, so we’ll have to hear everybody.”

Quite a few locals are anxious to have their voices heard on this topic. A contingent of short-term rental owners attended last week’s village board meeting because discussion of the STR issue was on the agenda. Some expected there would be public comment on that night and were frustrated because they sat through an hour of an annual organizational and regular board meeting without getting to share their thoughts.

Afterward, some STR owners said they are concerned about the timing of this regulation, as some have relied on rental income during the coronavirus pandemic. STR owners also said they have concerns about privacy during inspections.

Currently, the village has identified around 125 short-term rental units on 82 individual properties. Last year it counted 65 to 68 individual properties on rental websites.

Trustee Melinda Little said a housing work group she set up with other village employees, outside of their village roles, has already been working on this topic. It’s become a priority recently, she said, due to several complaints from the public about rental properties. The committee will bring its recommendations to the board soon.

Possible permit process

The village board will consider many potential requirements to obtain a permit. These requirements may include submitting an emergency contact, a parking plan, a copy of the deed and proof of homeowner insurance.

They may also involve signing paperwork: an affidavit that the property meets health and safety standards, registering the STR with the county to ensure occupancy tax is collected and an agreement to comply with village rules.

These rules would include quiet hours between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., garbage storage in a discreet location with weekly pick-up, a house number visible from the street, limiting two people per bedroom and making rules visible to renters.

Village Attorney Paul Van Cott said noise, parking and trash are the most common complaints currently brought up.

“Those seem to be in other municipal ordinances that have been adopted, sort of common threads in terms of standards for operations,” he said.

The village will need to determine a price for obtaining an STR permit. It is looking to other communities that have introduced these rules before Saranac Lake. Lake George charged $50 annually, but is considering increasing that. The town of North Elba, which includes part of Saranac Lake and all of Lake Placid and Ray Brook, charges between $200 and $1,200 annually, depending on the number of bedrooms.

Enforcement

The language of this potential local law is still being drafted, but a memo from Van Cott to the board lays an outline for what enforcement of the rules could potentially hold.

The system he described gets more severe if the problem gets worse. The most effective approach, he said, is through voluntary compliance enforced by the village code enforcement officer.

A complaint could also come from the public or be initiated by the village or village police.

Enforcement could include revoking permits after a certain number of complaints or after failure to fix an alleged violation.

STR operators with permits would be in violation of the law.

This law may allow property owners to appeal violations and have hearings before the village board or a new board designated to hear appeals.

In the case of a “flagrant and continuing violation,” Van Cott said the village can resort to criminal or civil court for enforcement.

The village could require the property owner to reimburse it for staff time and legal fees accrued during civil enforcement. Criminal enforcement would be handled in local courts.

Monitoring software

Village Community Development Director Jamie Konkoski is also a member of the housing work group. She said the committee recommends the village use the STR data management service Rentalscape to monitor rentals in the village.

This software uses machine learning, image analysis and data mining daily to identify rental properties. It would be used to tell the village if an STR has a permit and would include contact information for the owner. It would also be used as a permit portal to submit applications for STRs, and would issue public notifications and compliance reminders.

This software would cost $7,500 in the first year, including the price of setting it up. Following years would cost around $4,700, depending on the number of STR properties.

Short-term rental meeting

¯ What: Saranac Lake Village Board work session on short-term rental regulations. This is a public work session, not a public comment session

¯ When: Monday, April 19, at 5:30 p.m.

¯ Where: The Harrietstown Auditorium, 39 Main St., Saranac Lake. Enter at the rear of the building and follow social distancing and mask protocols.

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