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All the Saranac Lake STRs are now registered

One year after law passage, all existing units have permits, village to consider capping new permits

SARANAC LAKE — Exactly one year after the village of Saranac Lake passed a landmark short-term vacation rental law in response to the affordable housing crisis, it has issued permits to all existing STRs, slowed the increase of non-local investment purchases and has been deemed successful so far by village staff.

But there’s a lot still to happen with the law. The village plans to cap the number of STRs allowed within the village and to regulate management of the properties for renter safety and quality of life in neighborhoods.

With the village Development Board recently finishing registering its backlog of its preexisting STRs, officials now have a count of how many units are in the village. Saranac Lake Village Community Development Director Katrina Glynn said she’s processed 84 applications in total. She said they started with 91 applicants, but some dropped out for a number of reasons. Some applications also included more than one STR unit.

Each one is now registered with the appropriate paperwork, Glynn said.

“I’m really happy with how it went, and we got it done sooner than we thought we would,” Glynn said.

The village imposed a moratorium on applications for new STR units when it passed the law, stopping any new ones from starting. This moratorium expires in December. After the moratorium ends, the village could choose to approve more permits.

There will be fees for obtaining an STR permit, with sharply increasing rates for larger and larger operations — ranging from $25 to $1,600.

Currently, anyone renting out a property as an STR without one of those preexisting permits would be in violation of the village law and subject to fines — $500 per day of violation.

Glynn said she hasn’t tried to personally track down any new illegal STRs. She said people have been vigilant, so flying under the radar would be hard to do. They know where the existing STRs are, and if one were to pop up, she hopes someone would notice and tell the village about it.

The village plans to cap the number of permits it issues for STRs to limit how much of the housing stock they take up. Where this cap is set still needs to be decided by the village board, which has been waiting for the preexisting permitting to finish and provide them with more data.

Glynn is compiling this data for the village with the locations of all preexisting STRs, how many STR properties are in each village zone and how many bedrooms are in each zone.

Impacts of the law so far

The number of investment STRs owned by people living outside Saranac Lake or New York had been rising for several years before the passage of this law as the STR market boomed amid wide adoption.

The passage of the village law in June 2023 came just a couple of months after the vacation rental and management company Evolve named Saranac Lake the best place in the nation to buy a lakefront investment property in 2023.

The company touted Saranac Lake as a great place to purchase lakefront investment properties “for investors who want to maximize profits.”

This concerned village leaders, especially in light of the shortage of affordable housing in the region.

“I don’t like out-of-state absentee landlords,” village Mayor Jimmy Williams said at the time. “I want to promote local ownership.”

This week, Glynn said she has noticed a chilling effect on the speculation of land for STRs in the village as a direct result of the village’s STR law. She said she has had a few calls from realtors with clients looking to buy homes in Saranac Lake to rent as STRs. But when she tells them about the requirement that the owner is a resident — or has at least an LLC with 25% local ownership — they tell her their clients aren’t interested anymore.

“Often, I hear, ‘Well, then, this person isn’t going to be interested in buying this house,'” Glynn said. “So I do believe it’s been working.”

Another thing the STR permitting process has done is ensure every STR is registered with Franklin and Essex counties so they can collect occupancy taxes. Every STR in these counties is required to be registered with the county, so it can collect a 5% occupancy tax on each rental stay. Franklin County Manager Donna Kissane said county Treasurer Fran Perry told her she’d seen a “significant increase” in revenue from STR registrations in Saranac Lake since the process began.

“That was very much appreciated,” Kissane said.

Process improved

Glynn said the preexisting permit process was frustrating for everyone at first, before it found its footing. She took on her position shortly after the board started this process.

“I spent a lot of time shepherding village residents through the process,” she said.

It was hard work, but she said she heard good feedback from the STR owners she worked with.

The volunteer board started by chipping away at the long list — handling around three to four a meeting — with the expectation that it could take months to a year to complete them all.

But earlier this spring, after finding a rhythm and realizing that these permit hearings weren’t taking long, the board decided to start doing them in larger “batches,” tackling around 20 at a time in extra meetings and finished sooner than expected.

These permits were all guaranteed to be approved, as the village wanted to “grandfather” them in before the stricter rules for new STRs take effect as a measure to protect people who currently use them as a revenue stream.

Though the permits were guaranteed, the development board could set conditions on them. Glynn said these were mostly “standard” conditions like hiding garbage cans, designating parking and reducing light pollution. Stricter conditions when a neighbor came to a meeting with a specific concern, she said, but were rare.

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