How common are short-term rentals in Saranac Lake?

Vacation rental numbers increase rapidly, but still make up small portion of overall homes

A map of Saranac Lake zoning districts and the number of short-term rentals in each district. (Provided photo — The village of Saranac Lake)

SARANAC LAKE — New data from a village report on short-term rentals shows that although vacation rentals only make up 4% of village residences, the number of STRs in Saranac Lake has risen by 60% over the past three years, and the vast majority of these new listings are second-homes or investment properties.

For months, the village’s discussion over whether to regulate vacation rentals by introducing a permit system has been stalled as it waited for this data. With the data on hand now, the village board is planning a work session on Monday so members can voice their opinions and indicate the direction they want to go with possible STR regulations, but it will likely be a couple of months until they take a vote.

“We still have a window of time, but it’s closing,” Trustee Melinda Little said.

Little, who also leads the village’s housing work group, said if the village wants to create regulation to support its goals of affordable housing and maintaining its neighborhoods, it will have to do it soon, but she doesn’t want to rush it.

Vacation rentals have been blamed by some locals for contributing to the affordable housing crisis by turning apartments into visitor accommodations. Some STR owners and supporters say they use their properties to supplement their incomes, and the rentals help make sure they can afford their mortgages.

The report, from the STR-tracking software company Rentalscape, cost the village $7,500, but Little said it was the only way for the village to get the actual numbers.

There are 2,913 residential units in the village, village Community Development Director Jamie Konkoski said, of those, 4% are STRs.

Trustee Rich Shapiro said this figure is “good news.” He said this means STRs are likely not “drastically impacting” the available housing stock, but they still create a significant gap.

Vacation rental growth

The report identified 70 village properties with STRs in them and 117 listings for those properties.

The number of STRs has risen sharply in recent years, the report shows. Vacation rental apps have become more common in recent years, too.

In 2013 and 2014, only one new STR was listed per year. Aside from a spike in 2017 with 10 new listings, the village averaged four or five new rentals each year until 2019, when there was a sharp increase again. In the next three years, there have been 12 to 17 new rentals each year, an average increase of around 16.5%.

David Lynch, a local activist who attended a village board meeting on Monday, pointed out that the data was of live listings and was generated on Sept. 16, after Labor Day, and when tourism starts winding down.

The Rentalscape report acknowledges this, saying the “data does not represent the total number of short-term rentals that were active each year as it does not include listings that are no longer active.”

Data generated in July showed 80 properties with 120 listings in the village.

Little said the report was created to identify “general trends.”

Homes and investment properties

Up until 2019, the majority of new STRs were primary residences — someone renting out their own home, or a portion of it. Then, in 2019, second home rentals shot up and have only become more common.

The Rentalscape data shows that 56, or 80%, of all STRs in the village are now second homes, or investment properties.

This year, all but one of the 17 newly added STRs were second homes. Last year, all but two of the 15 new rentals were second homes. In 2019, all but two of the 10 new rentals were second homes.

Little said she supports business, but finds this “concerning.”

“Those are the kinds of investments that take away from long-term rental possibilities,” she said.

She said she’d like to look into regulating these types of properties in stricter or different ways than primary home rentals.

“That’s a business operation,” Shapiro said. “It’s not somebody renting out part of their house, renting out a room. … It’s a separate entity that is there specifically for rental.”

He said having a vacation rental for a supplement income is “acceptable” and leaves a neighborhood “intact.” He said second-home STRs are like businesses and said the village board should discuss if they can be allowed in residential zoning districts without commercial zoning.

Still, he added, he thinks a vacant property is worse than an investment STR.

Some community activists, like Fred Balzac, have suggested a hard cap, limiting the number of STRs allowed in the village. Shapiro said he’s not suggesting that, but he said the board should talk about it.

Who are the STR owners?

A majority of STR properties, 43 of them, are owned by Saranac Lakers, according to the data. Seven are owned by people living in the state, but outside of the village. Six are owned by out-of-state residents.

A majority of STR hosts, 64 of them, host one property, the report found. Five host two properties and one hosts three.

A majority of STR property owners, 67 of them, own one property, according to the Rentalscape report. Two own two properties, one owns five properties and 12 are owned by an LLC, trust or company.

Other data

Of the 70 properties the Rentalscape report found, 64 were full unit rentals, and six were partial unit rentals.

Airbnb was the most popular platform for listing rentals, and some were listed on multiple sites. The report found 69 listings on Airbnb, 18 on VRBO and one on Homeaway.

The report includes a map showing how many STRs are in each of the village’s 12 zoning districts. The area with the most rentals is the neighborhood on the west shore of Lake Flower, by Dewey Mountain. The neighborhood around North Country Community College has 11. Downtown has 10. The rest of the districts have single digit numbers of STRs.

What’s next?

At a board meeting on Monday, village Mayor Clyde Rabideau said he “acquiesced” when trustees Little and Kelly Brunette wanted to wait on an STR registry vote until they had the Rentalscape data, and asked them if now that they had the data if they’d be willing to move forward.

Brunette and Little said they’d like to discuss the board’s vision for Saranac Lake first.

Little said the village housing work group should release its final plan first. She expects this plan to be done by the end of November or in early December. She also said the village will need to review existing laws and codes before voting. She said she hope to do this all before the next village election, in spring 2022, which will bring a change of the board’s mayor and members.

The board’s work session on Monday will be held in the Harrietstown Town Hall at 5:30 p.m.


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