Home-sharing is not a crime

Home-sharing is popular in the Adirondacks. Many visitors to Saranac Lake enjoy staying in historic residential neighborhoods, vacation cabins, downtown apartments and other homey places. They rent these homes through online services such as Airbnb, Vrbo, Adirondack “By Owner,” New York Rental By Owner and others.

Guests who stay in home-shares say they like the feeling of being part of the community, learning about what makes it special and having a unique experience. A hotel stay is cookie cutter, pretty much the same whether you’re in Saranac Lake or Scottsdale. Health-conscious guests like being able to prepare their own meals, and cost-conscious guests like being able to stay longer because they’re paying a lower price for their vacation. In fact, a national study by Airbnb showed guests typically stay longer at their destinations (five vs. 2.8 nights) and spend 2.1 times more money in the local community than tourists staying in hotels. That means more spending at local businesses, something Saranac Lake needs.

Many residents in the village benefit from the opportunity to make money through home-share properties they own. Unfortunately, that could all soon change. The village is considering enacting regulations that will restrict the fundamental, constitutional rights of property owners and guests. The right to rent one’s property on a short-term basis is a fundamental privilege of private property owners, particularly when, as in Saranac Lake, short-term rentals have been an established practice and a historically allowable use. Regulations that seek to disallow assemblies on private property without regard to the peacefulness or the reasons for the assembly are a violation of owners’ and guests’ constitutional right to freedom of assembly.

Let’s consider some of the proposed regulations. Perhaps most troubling is the fact that the proposed rules single out home-shares as a class of property separate from hotels/motels, bed-and-breakfasts, long-term rentals, or commercial and residential properties. New requirements that will apply ONLY to home-shares and none of the other types of properties are:

¯ Purchase an annual permit based on the number of bedrooms, proceeds of which will be used to fund short-term rental (STR) tracking software.

¯ Provide an emergency contact number of someone who lives within a 30-minute drive of the property.

¯ Owners must sign an affidavit stating they follow building codes and other health and safety standards.

¯ Owners must ensure quiet hours between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., garbage must be stored in a discreet location with weekly pickup, and a house number must be visible from the street.

¯ Occupancy restricted to two people per bedroom plus two additional people if cots or pullout sofas are available.

¯ Renters must sign an agreement to comply with “good community rules.”

¯ Owners must submit a parking plan to give to renters and file with the village.

Frankly, I have a problem with ALL of these proposed rules.

The village stated that home-share owners will pay permit fees in order to fund the STR tracking software. Owners will be required to fund the very same system that identifies, monitors and controls their legal small businesses. It’s as if we’re living in China, not the United States. What other small businesses does the village track in this way?

The cost of the permits is also troublesome. The village is considering a fee of $200 for the most expensive permit, with two other increasingly expensive tiers. If, as the village has stated, the annual cost of the software is $4,700 and there are 125 home-share units in the village, the per-unit cost of the permit should be $37.60. Where would the other $162.40 be going?

Other rules, such as providing emergency contacts, affirming building codes are followed, and maintaining the peace and quiet of the community seem like good ideas. In fact, they’re such good ideas that owners of hotels/motels, bed-and-breakfasts, long-term rentals, commercial and residential properties should be required to do the same.

I know a resident of the village who lives in an apartment with serious code violations: Black mold covers the ceiling, electrical outlets next to sinks aren’t GFI, torn linoleum presents a tripping hazard, and other health and safety issues are clearly visible. The landlord is aware of the issues and does nothing. We probably all know of apartments in town like this. In fact, I lived in one when I first moved here! Singling out home-share owners to apply these rules to is based solely on their classification. Other business and home owners should be subject to the same rules. If it’s good for one, it’s good for all.

Similarly, occupancy limits, agreements to comply with “good community rules” and parking plans should apply to every type of property in the village if they apply to any. I know property owners who continually suffer from issues with renters trespassing on their property, littering, noise, parking problems and harassment. These are long-term renters, not home-sharers.

As a downtown building owner, I’m continually having to dispose of trash left on my property (mattresses, furniture, a refrigerator!). Cleaning up dog poop in front of my building’s door is a constant battle. I sincerely doubt home-share renters are perpetrating these violations of “good community rules.”

Home-share owners rely on the income from their property’s legal, legitimate use. The village should not prohibit or restrict the use of or regulate home-shares based on their classification, use or occupancy alone. I and other home-share owners in the village support a law to regulate home-share rentals if the regulation is:

¯ Narrowly tailored to protect the public health and safety

¯ Based on verifiable data describing the issues being caused by home-share rentals alone and not by other types of properties

¯ Applied fairly to ALL types of properties that cause the same issues.

While the harm the regulations would inflict on home-share owners is real and significant, the alleged benefits are speculative at best. In a later letter, I will discuss the village’s weak case for enacting the new rules.

Rushing to pass an unfair, unconstitutional regulation without first identifying and addressing any LEGITIMATE concerns those rentals may present is overreaching and an abuse of power. It should not be tolerated by any Saranac Lake resident who values their rights granted by our Constitution.

Calli Shelton lives in Saranac Lake.


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