North Elba takes steps to strengthen STR compliance

LAKE PLACID — Elected officials in Lake Placid are raising annual short-term rental permit fees to pay for more employee wages and hours devoted to enforcing STR compliance and the “unanticipated costs” of increasing STR enforcement.

The North Elba Town Council last week voted to increase weekly hours and wages for Building and Planning Department Clerk Britt Isham Waite. She’ll now work 40 hours every week — an increase from 35 hours a week — to fulfill her added duties as Lake Placid’s new “STR compliance monitor.” As the compliance monitor, she’ll scrub software and websites for noncompliant STRs on a daily basis and streamline communication about STR noncompliance between town code enforcement officers, the Lake Placid Police Department, and town and village boards, among other tasks.

The council increased Waite’s hourly pay from $23.10 per hour to $25 per hour. With the added hours and pay, her yearly income will increase from $42,042 to $52,000 — before taxes.

To fund the increased pay and duties — and other “unanticipated” costs of increased enforcement, according to town officials, like verifying the locations of listed contact people for “unhosted” STRs — the town voted to raise fees for all four classes of STR permits. Fees for studios to two-bedroom STRs went from $200 to $300; fees for STRs with three to five bedrooms went from $500 to $700; permits for six- to eight-bedroom STRs went from $900 to $1,200; and STR permits with nine or more bedrooms went from $1,200 to $1,500.

The fee increases will go into effect with the filing of the town and village’s new STR law. Officials say they could vote on the law as soon as Dec. 20.

The village board doesn’t need to approve the fee or pay increases; village Mayor Art Devlin said that because the Building and Planning Department is technically a town office, all STR permitting fees go to the town.

Paying for enforcement

According to board documents, there are 160 studios and two-bedroom STRs in the town and village; 215 three- to five-bedroom STRs; 36 six- to eight-bedroom STRs; and five STRs with nine or more bedrooms.

With the permit increases, according to town board documents, the Building and Planning Department’s revenue from STR permit fees would go from $179,500 per year to $251,600 a year — an increase of $72,100. Waite’s pay increase, with the added hours, adds up to an annual total of just under $10,000.

Doty asked the board at its meeting last Tuesday if the increases were “too greedy.” Officials have repeatedly said they can only increase fees enough to directly cover the costs of increased enforcement. Town Councilor Rick Preston said that in addition to increased costs for Waite’s duties, he thought the town and village would run into more expenses than anticipated for the increased enforcement. The rest of the board agreed.

Town Councilor Dick Cummings said there are a lot of aspects of the STR law that the boards haven’t analyzed when it comes to strengthening STR compliance. He mentioned verifying the locations of contact people for unhosted STRs — who are required to live within 60 minutes of the STR — as one way the town and village could use the extra funds for compliance.

Not enough?

Town Councilor Jason Leon cast the lone “no” vote against Waite’s pay and hourly increases — he said he thought the board could increase STR permit fees even more and create an entirely new position dedicated to STR compliance. He thought the town should do more to address community members’ calls for increased enforcement during public hearings and meetings over the last several months.

“I think that would signal to the community that we’re serious,” Leon said of creating a new position.

However, other town officials said they’re already “stretching it” with the current fee increase. Town board members ultimately decided to reassess — at their regular meeting in October 2023 — whether Waite’s added duties and benefits are substantial enough to address STR noncompliance — and if the increased permit fees provide too little or too much revenue for the enforcement necessary to address STR noncompliance.

Monitor duties

Waite’s added compliance duties are mostly broken out into daily, weekly, monthly and annual tasks.

Each day, she’ll check the validity of STR permits according to the department’s STR software and monitor real estate websites that aren’t monitored by the current software scrubbing system, which already checks popular STR sites like Airbnb and VRBO.

At least once a week, Waite will follow up on any non-compliant STR properties and meet with code enforcement officers to discuss non-compliant properties and, if necessary, plans to enforce consequences.

Every month, Waite will brief the town and village boards during their regular work sessions — either in person or with a written document — with that month’s STR “activities.” The briefing could include the total number of permits for each permit category; the number of properties on the wait list for STR permits; a list of addresses for non-compliant properties; a report on complaints, including the address associated with the complaint, how the complaint was reported and whether it was resolved; and, starting on Jan. 1, 2023, a tally of permit fees and fines collected to date.

At the town’s regular board meeting each October, Waite will be expected to tell the board how well she thinks the STR permitting and compliance software works and to generally address the efficacy of the town and village’s STR law.

On a regular basis, Waite will be expected to stay in touch with the Lake Placid Police Department to make sure that all STR-related police calls are recorded as such. She’ll also be required to consistently correspond with the STR permitting and compliance software company about any problems. And whenever revoking a permit is being considered, she’ll be expected to facilitate a board discussion with the town and/or village board and the code enforcement officers prior to revocation.


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