How many short-term rentals are there in Lake Placid?

Amy FeiereiselHow many short-term rentals are there in Lake Placid?

On a stormy Monday evening in May, dozens of people gathered around the cafeteria at Lake Placid Middle High School, filling out surveys and inspecting the proposed maps that divide the town and village into different neighborhoods: residential, rural, center of the village and commercial.

This was a public feedback session, the latest development in a years-long process around the regulation of short-term rentals in Lake Placid.

Public feedback session. Photo: Amy Feiereisel

An overview of what has happened so far

Lake Placid started talking about regulating short-term rentals a long time ago. In 2014, the community established a “Community Vision and Plan,” which included managing short-term rentals and affordable residential housing.

After five years of discussions, City Council and Village Council passed legislation in early 2020, and Lake Placid began regulating short-term rentals, requiring permits and setting rules for things like the number of visitors and providing adequate parking.

Shortly thereafter, a lawsuit by a group of short-term rental landlords prevented Lake Placid Village Council and North Elba City Council from making changes to these regulations for about a year.

In early March 2021, the Village Council and City Council both issued a six-month moratorium on new short-term rental permits, saying they wanted time to review and possibly change regulations. It will expire in early September. In the meantime, Lake Placid has held public feedback sessions and shared how they might approach the new regulations.

Limit short-term rentals in number and extent

Dean Dietrich is the chair of the Lake Placid Land Use Code Committee, which organized the public feedback meeting and produced the zoning maps. He says the 2020 law, which established a permit system for short-term rentals, was phase 1.

“You know, we’ve addressed the health safety and nuisance issues. Now we’re looking at phase 2, like what neighborhoods should short-term rentals be allowed in.”

Dean Dietrich (L) .  Photo: Amy Feiereisel

Dean Dietrich (L) . Photo: Amy Feiereisel

The Land Use Code Committee is proposing that in some places short term rentals be permitted. In others they wouldn’t, or they would be capped at a certain number. Dietrich says they try to strike the right balance because, on the one hand, Lake Placid is a vacation destination. People expect AirBnBs and VRBOs in a place like this. “And we want people to come and visit us and we want to make sure we have enough short-term rentals to do that.”

Dietrich on the other hand says, at last count, there were 473 short-term rentals in Lake Placid, which is about 15% of the livable housing stock, “…and the theory is that whenever you take a habitable property or building, and make it a short-term rental, you have one less for long-term residential use.”

Dietrich says they try to be a resort where people live too. Room for tourists, room for local workers.

Over-regulation?

There were quite a few short-term rental owners present at the public feedback session. Some felt that the creation of neighborhoods and the possible restrictions on current or future short-term rentals were too much.

Sarah Mainer and her husband Sean own a second home in Lake Placid. They spend about half the year there, operating it as a short-term rental the rest of the time when they’re in Connecticut.

“I have no problem with the regulations,” Mainer said. “They put the permits in place and we asked. They said you have to have a caretaker and we have one. We’ve done everything they said. Now every six months there’s something one more thing they’re trying to do. And now they’re trying to stop rentals in many places! And, you know, that doesn’t seem fair, they don’t really think about the people behind the short-term rentals.

She says the local government doesn’t read her guestbook or see how much visitors enjoy staying in a more personalized rental, instead of a large hotel or motel. Mainer says she and her family love Lake Placid, they spend between a third and a half of the year here. She says these meetings have felt somewhat alienating.

“They said they wanted the community back and I feel like we’re part of the community. I feel like we are, so it kind of hurts, to hear that they look at us like we’re not part of the community when we’re trying so hard to be.”

Mike Delsignore.  Photo: Amy Feiereisel

Mike Delsignor. Photo: Amy Feiereisel

Other short-term rental owners expressed varying degrees of concern and acceptance of the process.

Mike Delsignore lives in Queensbury and owns a four-unit rental in downtown Lake Placid. He came to the meeting to share some ideas about hybrid rentals. “For larger units, let’s say half of the units are for short-term rentals and the other half for longer-term residential use.”

Delsignore says the 2020 regulations haven’t changed much for his rental units and he found them reasonable. He says he knows there are downsides to short-term rentals.

“I understand the need to reduce what’s happening in the region, what’s happening in the neighborhoods. I think it’s totally reasonable to stop adding STRs to the region.” He hopes that existing units, like his, can continue to operate and that STRs aren’t completely relegated to commercial areas.

Hosted versus non-hosted, and housing as a “scarce” resource

The Land Use Code Committee is particularly interested in the regulation of non-hosted tenancies; think of entire homes that are rented out on Airbnb or VRBO to many groups over the course of a year. Currently, there are about 300 in Lake Placid, representing about 10% of the town and village’s livable housing stock.

Dean Dietrich says unhosted rentals are what they hear the most, in terms of noise and nuisance, and pose the biggest threat to gobble up the affordable housing stock. “If you live in a house and rent part of it, it’s more like a residence. If you live somewhere else and rent it, it’s more like a business.”

Rick Thompson.  Photo: Amy Feiereisel

Rick Thompson. Photo: Amy Feiereisel

Rick Thompson grew up in Lake Placid and lives in the village. He came to the meeting to look at the cards. He is neither for nor against STRs, but thinks the regulations are reasonable. He also said the STR problem is not unique to Lake Placid.

I think that’s, that’s an issue that a lot of resort areas are struggling with in terms of the housing options that are available to people who make a living in the communities. And I think the STR world just added a complication to an already scarce resource.”

The scarce resource that Thompson was referring to is, of course, housing. Homes used as businesses rub some people the wrong way, especially with the housing crisis in Lake Placid. Rents are rising here, as are house prices, which have soared during the pandemic.

For many local residents and year-round workers, the dream of owning a home in Lake Placid, or simply continuing to live in the area, is becoming increasingly difficult and out of reach.

Tension between STR owners and local residents

This tension between the haves and the have-nots was palpable at a meeting of the village’s board of directors that same evening, just across from the North Elba town hall. Council was considering two short-term rental applications.

When the village and city passed the six-month moratorium on new short-term rentals, they issued a caveat: People could apply for exemptions if they were in financial hardship. So far, two nominations have been submitted and both made their case at the board meeting.

David Berger requested an exemption for a property on Saranac Avenue. It is located in a commercial area, next to the hotels. “The basis really, for me, even considering buying the house, was being able to rent it out. So I’m going to have to be able to do that for it to make sense.”

Berger bought the house for over a million dollars, spent several hundred thousand dollars renovating it, and planned to operate it as a short-term rental. He was unaware of the moratorium. Berger predicts he will lose about $150,000 if he can’t use the house as a short-term rental.

“For me, it’s a lot of money. For me, it’s my business, for me, it’s my livelihood. If I lose that money, I’m seriously upset everywhere. It’s really a difficulty financial.”

Lake Placid village council meeting.  Photo: Amy Feiereisel

Lake Placid village council meeting. Photo: Amy Feiereisel

After Berger and the other candidate (Brendan Wilson, who expected to lose $25,000) spoke, a few residents asked to make public comments.

One of them was Karen Armstrong, who came out to say that she supported maintaining the six-month moratorium and that she was not granting an exception to either candidate. “I think the two situations today, having a second home really shouldn’t be in the same sentence as financial hardship. It’s not that I’m not sensitive to the issues there. But so many people here are really struggling not even to stay in the house they own, but to buy a new house or to stay in a rental.”

Local Shelley Reynolds asked council to consider what the community loses in a short-term rental. “Fewer families in the community. That means fewer school enrollments. That means fewer people in the workforce. That means fewer people giving their time to do all the things that make Lake Placid an amazing community. That’s what we miss. When too many places are short-term rentals.”

Moving forward on little precedent

Everyone I spoke to agreed that it makes sense to regulate short-term rentals. But how tricky does it get. Some argue that regulating short-term rentals will hurt tourism. Others say that not regulating them would do much worse.

And with short-term rentals on this scale such a new phenomenon, there aren’t many precedents to rely on.

The Village Council and Lake Placid City Council are expected to draft new bylaws this summer. The moratorium on new short-term rentals ends in September.

About Michael B. Billingsley

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