Get ready to register STRs in Saranac Lake

Before regulations are presented, village plans to pre-register existing STRs for ‘priority’ placement

SARANAC LAKE — The village of Saranac Lake will soon begin asking owners of short-term rental units to register their STRs as it prepares to regulate them with a permitting system. The rules and regulations of the system will be ready for public comment sometime next month.

Village Mayor Jimmy Williams said that registering an STR now does not guarantee a permit later. But, people who register their STRs now will be given priority when it comes time to issue permits and cap the number allowed. This is the “carrot” incentivizing owners to register their STRs, Trustee Kelly Brunette said.

The village cannot legally issue permits without passing rules and regulations first. The board has promised to have a draft of regulations for the public to review after the holiday season.

“We will have a law by January, by Jesus!” Trustee Matt Scollin said at a board meeting last week.

So far, board members have agreed to cap the number of STR permits it distributes, but where the cap will be set is not yet determined. This cap is meant to be a “safety net,” Williams said, to stabilize the number and percentage of STRs in town.

The board has agreed to start registering STRs in the near future, to get a total count of how many are currently operating, even before the regulations are voted on.

Williams said the village could use the number of registered STRs to help determine where a cap should be set.

Scollin said implementing this will take precise timing. He doesn’t want to create a rush on registering if registration is available and a cap is not yet in place.

Currently, 3.5% of all housing units in the village are STRs.

Brunette said she has developed a registration form with village Code Enforcement Officer Chris McClatchie after pulling inspiration from registration forms other towns have implemented. She said the village’s lawyers are looking at it now.

Williams said he had hoped to have this form sooner, but the Thanksgiving holiday held things up.

Brunette said this form should be online-only to make tracking registrations easier for the village. If someone can register a property on an online app, they are able to fill out an online form, she said.

The village hasn’t set how long this registration period will last for, but there will be a deadline to register, Williams said. To notify people about the deadline, the board is considering putting a note in the village’s water and sewer bill, which goes out to all ratepayers in January, letting them know about the registration period.

Williams also said the village will put notifications on its social media, in the Enterprise and as many places as possible. Though, at a point, they said it’s on STR owners to hear about this.

“If the owner is out of state and they don’t hear about this, that’s too bad,” Trustee Rich Shapiro said.


Shapiro asked if the village would consider creating zones where certain types of STRs would be allowed and capping each zone. He liked this idea for its ability to focus on specific neighborhoods and felt zones would allow the village to prioritize owner-occupied STRs more.

Williams said owner occupied STRs make up a small percentage of the STRs in the village and said the housing task force, which supplied the village with a draft of STR regulation recommendations last month, was split on whether to create zones. He personally felt zones hurt local STR owners more, pointing out that locals make up the majority of STR owners in the village.

Shapiro said he would like a cap specifically on out-of-town STR owners. Williams said the village is still waiting on an answer from its legal team on if this is allowed.

Scollin said he didn’t feel prepared to decide on zones yet at last week’s meeting.

Williams said he doesn’t want to hurt local investors — people who buy and rehabilitate buildings and turn them into STRs to pay for the construction costs.

Concerns from property owner

Ona Allen, a Saranac Lake resident who said she owns short-term and long-term rentals in town, said she felt “targeted” by these proposed regulations and asked why the village was confining this type of business.

“I’m a little resentful that these regulations are going to affect me,” she told the board. “I haven’t given you guys any reason to subject me to that sort of overreach.”

Allen said she was born and raised here, and after managing properties in the village from out of state for decades, she has moved back after retiring as a nurse practitioner.

Williams said if the village “does it right” and passes quality STR regulations, it should not affect people like her too much, but rather, the people from outside the area who want to “buy up Saranac Lake.”

“We don’t want to cut into your income,” Scollin told Allen. “We want to stop the extraction of money and available housing out of this community.”

Scollin said looking at Lake Placid and how some neighborhoods there have become largely converted into STRs, the Saranac Lake village board wanted to avoid that happening here.

Williams said if STRs are left unchecked, problems will flourish.

Allen felt that 3.5% of all housing units in the village being STRs was just a “drop in the bucket” and not a significant contributor to the housing shortage. Scollin said that if not capped, that contribution will not stay at 3.5%.

According to STR-tracking software the village purchased, there were 80 active STR properties in the village on Nov. 14.

Village Treasurer Bachana Tsiklauri pointed out that STRs make up a more significant percentage of rental units in the village than they do for all units combined.

The village’s housing report, written by the former Housing Work Group in December 2021, cites statistics from the 2016 Downtown Revitalization Initiative Strategic Investment Plan showing that, at the time, the village had a total of 3,080 housing units. Of these units, 43% were rented out, 38% were occupied by their owners and 19% were vacant.

These numbers are several years old, and have changed especially during the coronavirus pandemic. As per the 2020 Census, there were 2,980 housing units in Saranac Lake, 100 fewer than four years earlier.

Allen said the village should investigate and enforce the code on long-term rentals, too. In her apartments, she said she’s had tenants who deal drugs out of the apartments and leave thousands of dollars in damages after she evicts them. Williams said he’s had similar issues with the units he converted from LTRs to STRs.

Allen said she hoped the village will consider people like her when they are regulating STRs.

“When you read about it and listen about it, it’s like the vacation rental people are the bogeyman,” Allen said.

STR tracking software

Williams wondered if the village should stop paying for the STR-tracking software Rentalscape.

The village purchased the Rentalscape software last summer for $7,500. This initial cost included the price of setting it up. To continue using the software, the village could pay around $4,700 annually, depending on the number of STR properties.

But this data is also not highly accurate, as it changes constantly, fluctuates seasonally and is prone to “glitches” or incomplete data, according to village Community Development Director Jamie Konkoski. The program gives the village a “snapshot” look of the STR landscape on a given day, but does not provide longer-term data.

The village has used the software to run a handful of reports so far.

“If we can’t have legitimate data points from that software, I don’t know why we’re paying for it,” Williams said.

He felt the software has served its purpose — it gave the village a benchline of data to work with — but the two data sets that it gave the village are “questionable at best.” He also felt putting a cap on the number of STRs in the village would make tracking that number with Rentalscape obsolete.

Trustee Rich Shapiro pointed out that Rentalscape takes data from 28 different vacation rental platforms. He said this can be useful to see if anyone is violating the permit requirement and running an STR without being registered. Scollin agreed.

Williams said only the Airbnb and VRBO platforms are really used. Stender said he was sure that if an STR was operating illegally, neighbors would be able to inform the village.


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