Tensions grow as community weighs options on updating STR regulations
By Leigh Hornbeck, Times Union
Lake Placid has long been a happy place for the Gajda-Perdon family. Their trips started in the 1970s when there were just two of them, Jo-Ann and George.
Over time, they introduced their three children to Lake Placid, a beautiful and popular spot in the Adirondack Mountains where the 1932 and 1980 winter Olympics were held and high-level athletic competitions continue today.
It’s where the kids, now grown, learned to ski and where the family celebrated special occasions. The Gajdas rented houses and stayed at hotels and motels over the years until they found a house they could afford in 2019. The key to making the purchase affordable was the prospect of income from renting the house out when they’re not using it.
Now, Jo-Ann Gajda-Perdon says she feels “vilified” by her neighbors because she operates a short-term rental.
“We were ready to start renting this year after the COVID pause, but with the moratorium, we’re leery,” she said in a phone call from her primary home in Nutley, N.J.
Establishing limits, rules
The governments of Lake Placid and the Town Board in North Elba, where Lake Placid is located, passed laws and created a permit system in 2020 to govern short-term rentals after five years of discussion. Two years later as the short-term rental business grew across the state and locally, residents complained that renters were rude and noisy. Officials in both the village and town put a moratorium on permits to give themselves time to amend the laws. Both boards have since extended them.
Nuisance calls, which include complaints of loud parties and strewn trash, are the driving force behind the two boards’ move to put stricter restrictions in place, although members of the Adirondack Families Rental Association — a coalition of property owners who own short-term rentals in the area along with service workers whose livelihoods are buoyed by the rental traffic — say the board members lack data to prove the problems from short-term renters are widespread. In a combined meeting of the town and village boards recently, Lake Placid Mayor Art Devlin acknowledged incidents have been hard to quantify because sometimes neighbors call the police, sometimes they call the village office and sometimes the homeowners themselves.
Lake Placid isn’t the only tourist destination facing this dilemma. In Breckenridge, Colo., the town board capped short-term rentals in a controversial decision last month. That followed the action in Avon, Colo., near the ski resort town of Vail, capping permits. Regionally, the town of Lake George invoked six-month moratorium on short-term rental permits Aug. 8 following complaints from residents. The town’s existing law already limits the areas where short-term rentals are allowed.
Over the past six months, officials in North Elba and Lake Placid sharpened definitions and distinguished between hosted and unhosted rentals. At a hosted rental, the property owner or an operator is on site and the boards seem unlikely to curtail permits for that type of use. Owners of unhosted rentals in Lake Placid will be required to have a caretaker who can get to the property within 30 minutes; in the town the deadline will be an hour. There are currently approximately 200 short-term rental permits in the town and village combined. There has been discussion of a cap on permits, perhaps 240 total, but it’s not clear if the cap will make it into the final legislation.
Elected officials are still debating revisions to the law. Those revisions will likely result include the end of unhosted rental permits in residential areas. Owners who already hold permits will be able to keep them, but once the property changes hands, the permit ends. Other proposed changes switch penalties for violating the local law around short-term rentals from criminal to civil, which can make it easier to prosecute. The village board will also create a compliance monitor position to respond to residents’ complaints concerning short-term rentals. There is no limit on short-term rentals in Lake Placid’s village center.
Jackie Kelly, a village trustee, said the village and town boards are striving for compatibility, noting resort communities have always had rentals of this type.
“We’re trying to fix the perception short-term rental owners have that they’re being vilified, and the perception from residents their community is being destroyed,” Kelly said. “School enrollment is declining and everyone is placing the blame on each other.”
‘Not far enough’
Jason Leon, a homeowner in Lake Placid and a teacher at the local public school since 2008, said the emphasis on compliance and enforcement is just a symptom of what’s going on and called the continued conversation about it a distraction from the area’s affordable housing problem. When investors buy houses to use as short-term rentals, there are fewer houses for local people looking for long-term rentals and homes to buy and live in as their primary residence. Leon is disappointed in the proposed changes in the law and said the halt on unhosted permits in residential districts is the only change with any teeth – but it doesn’t go far enough.
Leon agreed the search for affordable housing has long been difficult throughout the Adirondacks but said the earning potential and the ease with which property owners can now rent rooms through platforms like Airbnb and VRBO has accelerated the land grab.
“People who won’t admit short-term rentals have at least an effect on housing stock are gaslighting. They only care about their own interests,” Leon said.
Embracing the boom
Ali Miller, a lifelong resident of Lake Placid, sees it differently. Miller, 54, has been cleaning houses since the 1980s. She’s also worked at hotels, hung wallpaper, done painting jobs, been a babysitter, a pet sitter and worked as a bartender. The increase in the number of short-term rentals provided her enough work so, for the first time in her life, she works just one job. In 2019, she founded Done!, a house cleaning business. She has more work than she can handle on word-of-mouth alone.
Miller has been a long-term renter in Lake Placid for 19 years. She inherited a piece of land and hopes to build a house on it someday.
“Short-term rentals don’t take away from long-term rentals. It’s always been hard to find an apartment in Lake Placid. I don’t think one has anything to do with the other. The underlying issue is how hard it is to make enough money to live,” Miller said. “The people who buy second homes here aren’t going to have long-term renters because they use the house, too.”
A cooling off period?
Nick Politi, a real estate broker with Merrill Thomas Real Estate, said he has noticed a change in the attitudes from buyers since the moratorium started in 2020. Prospective buyers who planned to buy and use the house as a short-term rental part of the time lost interest when they learned they might not be able to going forward. Politi has a front seat to elected officials’ discussions, his wife, Emily Kilburn Politi, is a North Elba councilwoman.
People next door to Lake Placid are watching, too. Tim Follos, who was elected to the Town Board in neighboring Wilmington (home of Whiteface Mountain) last fall and took office in January, said he is unhappy with the town’s current ordinance because it isn’t strong enough. It calls for permits, but the town hasn’t issued any yet.
The town has a population of 1,300 and 635 housing units. More than 140 of them are short-term rentals. In the spring of 2019, there were 100. Follos said it is inappropriate to have businesses in neighborhoods. Any other business — a tavern, a mechanic — would need a variance to open in a residential neighborhood. The same should be true for short term rentals, Follos said.