Changes made, more to come for Saranac Lake STR law

Saranac Lake board continues work on draft vacation rental regs

SARANAC LAKE — The Saranac Lake village board continued to make edits to its draft short-term vacation rental law on Monday, and with several issues still up for debate, the board will discuss it again at the next board meeting on Jan. 23.

Last week, the board made changes to its draft law based on some of the STR owners’ requests — eliminating the restriction on the number of units an individual can own, revising the transfer of a permit to allow grandfathered STRs to be transferred by sale once and allowing property managers at new STRs. They also added language to clarify exemptions and grandfathering processes. None of these changes are final.

There are more changes the board is considering, but members are split on issues including parking requirements and what the definition of a “local” owner will be.

If adopted, the draft law would impose a new permit system, meaning an STR could not legally be operated without a permit; the law would create a cap on the number of STR permits issued each year; and regulate who can receive new permits. Under the law, owners of existing STRs would essentially be grandfathered in, giving their owners first rights to permits.

Exceptions to these proposed regulations could be made by the board in cases where they feel an exception could benefit the village — primarily if an exception would allow a vacant building to be rehabilitated and used as an STR.

Trustee Matt Scollin and Mayor Jimmy Williams said more legal definitions need to be added to the law.

At the next board meeting Williams said he plans to have drafts of proposed fines, fees rates, and forms including permit applications, variance forms for exceptions and complaint forms.

The board plans to revise the village’s noise ordinance and fire permit process. These have been problems for years at long-term rentals, too, they said.

Williams said though STRs may technically be a commercial use in residential zones, it is still a “gray area” and they are not a legally recognized commercial use. Long-term rentals are a commercial use, too, he pointed out. Trustee Rich Shapiro felt STRs are definitely a commercial use.

Who is a “local”?

The board is struggling to define who counts as a “local” under the law.

A goal of the law, Williams said, is to let locals benefit from tourism, restricting out-of-state and foreign investors from buying up property in the community.

Scollin prefers using the school district boundary. But the school district boundary wouldn’t include residents of Lake Placid.

The board also considered a 15-mile radius in a circle around the town hall — this includes Bloomingdale and Lake Placid but not Tupper Lake and Keene. Williams wants to stick with village lines.

All board members agreed, if a resident gets a new permit and moves, they give up their permit unless they get an exception from the village.


STR owner Jacob Agostino asked the board to get some idea of how they would set the cap on STR permits by the next meeting. This is a big part of some STR owners’ concerns about growth and it makes their business uncertain, he said.

Williams hopes they will have an answer soon but said they won’t set a cap before issuing permits.

STR owner Chris Dorman accused the village of having a “lack of research.” Trustee Rich Shapiro agreed.

On Tuesday, village Community Development Director Jamie Konkoski told the Enterprise data showed 180 individual STR units active on 84 properties.

The village has been putting its Rentalscape software to use more often now, requesting data on the number and type of STR in the village every week. Before this, the village only had two data points from the software to base their actions on.

“We should have been doing this all along,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro suggested issuing no new permits in the first year of the law — essentially imposing a moratorium.

Williams worried this would slow the progress of property rehabilitation as property owners fund renovation by using them as STRs. Shapiro said they could make exemptions for these projects. That’s a lot of work for the village board, Williams said.

Williams said they can set the cap at zero to start, but then potentially raise it whenever they want this year — once they feel they have the information they need to decide on a number.

Scollin said he wants to involve the development board more. They’re experts on these things, he said, and new permit applications should be sent it to them. If the development board denies an application, it could be appealed to the village board, he said.

“This is a very sensitive topic that requires the attention of the leaders of our village. And they can be held accountable,” Williams said. “I don’t think it would be fair to shovel it into the lap of the development board and say ‘You guys take deal with this.'”

It is a lot for the village board to take up, but it’s their job, Williams said.


Shapiro proposed a change to the draft law that would allow property managers to be used at new STRs, which was one of STR owners’ main concerns. Property managers are hired by STR owners to tend to their units while they are working jobs, away from town or otherwise unavailable.

Ben Douglass, a member of the village housing task force, said a 30-minute response time means owners couldn’t go on vacation, go on a hike or shop in Plattsburgh while renting.

Williams wants to avoid having property managers. He feels no one takes care of a house like its owner.

“If someone’s not in town to manage then they shouldn’t be taking reservations,” Williams said.

Shapiro and Scollin agreed that a manager shouldn’t need to live in the village, just be nearby.


Trustee Kelly Brunette suggested adding an exemption permit document, a sort of variance request form for making exceptions to the cap or other parts of the law to codify this process. Trustees Tom Catillaz and Scollin agreed that the process should be standardized.

STR owners who use property managers would be required to give neighbors contact information for the managing company to report issues or complaints with renters. Village resident Jeremy Evans said the village should also require owners of long-term rentals to share contact information for property managers, too.

The village board could revoke permits if corrective action for complaints is not taken.

Agostino asked for a formal document for the complaint form so that is official, too. He said the accuser should need to identify themselves, which the board agreed with.

30-day wait

The board is considering having a 30-day waiting period between submitting more than one application for new permits to avoid a rush on them or hoarding. Dorman asked why there should be a wait if there’s not a line. He said its best to market all new rentals in a building at once and suggested each building have one permit.

Williams said the village is losing long-term rentals, sometimes to STRs. If each building has one permit, the village can’t know how many units are in that structure.

Scollin felt 30 days was too long. The board discussed this, but did not settle on a final wait time.


One controversial proposal among the board would ban STR renters from using on-street parking, except in the downtown E zones.

But the village doesn’t require this for long-term rentals, Williams said, and he wants to avoid treating STRs different than LTRs.

Shapiro said he hears lot of complaints about on-street parking at STRs.

Williams said the village got rid of parking spot requirements for new buildings in recent years — namely at the Saranac Waterfront Lodge hotel and Saranac Lofts apartments.

The board was undecided on this but Williams questioned if the village can legally restrict renters from on-street parking in neighborhoods.

14 days

Shapiro wants to make exceptions for places rented for 14 days or less a year. This is the metric the IRS uses for reporting renting revenue as income.

If people are flying under the radar, not using major platforms and renting for a short time, Shapiro felt the village should allow it and write that into the law. If people do it legitimately — renting for no more than two weeks each year, they should not have to worry about the law, he said. If someone does exceed the 14-day limit and the village finds out, “nail the sons of b*****s,” Shapiro said.

Williams said this could create a loophole and “invites further confusion.” The village can’t keep track of how many days a year a unit is rented, he said, adding that he believes “vague language will be abused.” On Wednesday, he pointed out that Lake Placid removed a similar provision from its law after it was being abused.

Catillaz said there’s not many people who do this.

“It’s not a big deal. Let it slide,” he said.

Dorman felt 14-day renters are not any different than STRs and they should have to abide by the same rules, regulations and permit requirements.

Peter Brady, who attended the meeting, said each year he rents his home for a week as a prize for a charity auction. He does not get paid for this, he said, adding that he believes his arrangement is “not an STR.”

Scollin said they could consider a “charitable carve-out” for cases like his.

Development code integration?

Evans suggested the board integrate this new law into its development code. There’s already a structure built in to use, he said, with other codes already dealing with regulations for all properties.

If something in the STR law is redundant or less restrictive than the existing code, it’s irrelevant, he added.

Paul Van Cott, Saranac Lake’s former village attorney and a former board member, offered his services for free and provided a draft STR law from the town of Lloyd, which he represents as an attorney.

Van Cott agreed that integrating the code is the best path in his view. He said he is a supporter of “neighbors rights” and this would gives neighbor the chance to comment on STR applications.

He also sees a severe workforce housing issue in the village. Van Cott felt making cap exceptions for STRs involving renovations doesn’t help the housing issue.

On Wednesday, Williams said there’s a lot of room for personalities and ideas in development code. He wants it to be a simple, stand-alone law. If every permit has a development board public hearing, that’s not efficient, he felt.


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