By Mary Brophy-Moore
I find myself frustrated by the ballooning trend in the Adirondacks, including the Town of Webb, whereby local family homes in once stable neighborhoods are being bought up by out of towners looking to make a killing on short term rentals.
As a resident since 1986, I’ve watched the housing market move steadily upward in terms of new builds and values. In the early 2000’s, especially after 9-11, there was a strong uptick in neighborhood homes being bought by down-staters presumably to have a place to escape the cities and feel safe. That created “dark” spots in previously year-round neighborhoods. But locals at least knew who their neighbors were even if their presence was sporadic. A direct result of the demand was a significant increase in property values that led to the current housing crisis in which locals are unable to afford homes of their own and fewer quality long-term rental units are available.
The more recent trend is where homes are purchased primarily as rentals, whether to help pay the mortgage and taxes on a property used as an occasional second home or to use them purely as rental businesses. In the meantime, this exacerbates the near-impossible housing situation for locals who don’t already own a home even as the new non-local owners operate rental businesses virtually free of regulation or oversight of any kind.
The threats to our once-stable neighborhoods continue to escalate because of this trend. Many residents find themselves living near homes that have different people in them every week or weekend. There have been many reports of overcrowding and noisy renters. Of course, many renters are considerate of neighbors but may be staying in houses that are in substandard condition or too small for the number of people in them.
In addition to these conditions, local motel, hotel and cottage rental businesses are subject to regulations and fees that short-term-rental homeowners are not. This amounts to inequitable competition.
The short-term rental situation as it contributes to the lack of affordable long-term housing has stymied efforts to attract new families to the area. In fact, individuals and families are leaving the town in search of affordable properties.
In my opinion, the town needs to enact regulations designed to protect locals as well as to protect renters from life safety threats. They should also help mitigate the pressure on town services including water, sewer, trash collection and emergency services, as well as try to level the playing field for established hospitality businesses. There should be a permitting mechanism where those who rent mainly for profit and spend little or no time occupying the residence are subject to substantial fees including violation charges. When owners have little interest in the welfare of the community there needs to be real consequences. Others who are simply attempting to afford to keep their homes, especially those family-owned for multiple generations should be given dispensation from fees (except violations) but be subject to regular inspections and limits on numbers of renters. Our purely residential zones should have extra protection in the form of limits on rental terms such as no more than one renter group per week. Perhaps in addition to these regulations, given that too many once long-term rental units have been converted to short-term rentals, the town could give tax relief incentives to landlords who rent to local, long-term tenants.
Certainly, regulation is only one part of the solution to our housing situation but is necessary. Similar regulations are having success in other Adirondack communities especially where enforcement is adequate. Good, vigorous enforcement practices are key to making it all work.
Our town board has been working on these issues but seem stymied by the objections of some who are renting their properties. Neighborhood stability and visitor safety should be the top priorities of our leaders and action needs to be taken sooner rather than later.
— Mary Brophy-Moore lives in Thendara, NY
Photos at top, taken from around Old Forge show plenty of “for rent” signs but the vast majority are advertising short-term, vacation rentals. Photos by Jamie Organski
I typically hear “short term rental” in reference to vacation rentals like Airbnb. I think you’re actually talking about long-term rental, which is where a resident signs a lease.
The only problem is, if you limit rentals then the next complaint will be that no one comes and your community has no money due to lack of visitors.
There really isn’t an issue with crowding – if people can go camping and sleep 8 in a small box (lean-to), they should be able to sleep a similar ratio in whatever they choose to rent.
For those looking for long-term housing, if the existing houses are not affordable, there is an option to purchase and have built whatever will be affordable to you. You aren’t required to buy an existing home – unless of course the towns go crazy and limit new building too much (which seems to happen as well).
The reason why a community must watch the number of occupants staying in a dwelling is because of safety, health and well-beng concerns. For instance, is the septic system built to accomodate a large number of occupants at one time? By all fairness and reason a short term rental property ought to assume the same rules as a motel, hotel or inn. That would include an on-site (or nearby) manager in case there’s a problem. Often times this rental model , unchecked and unregulated, creates all kinds of problems ….from short term problems such as 30 people showing up for a two bedroom rental for a crazy, unhinged party, adding stress to a neighborhood…. to the long term effect of a small community being bought up by folks who are not residents…. keeping long term residents from establishing lives there, putting kids in school, serving on boards, establishing businesses etc….. essentially eroding the community fabric by shutting out and making it unaffordable for the people who will long-term care for the community. There is a way to to allow the short terms in a community without creating too much ill effect, while adding economic benefits…but it requires regulation and certain limitations….. a carefully crafted policy …individualized for the needs of each town. A short term rental is a busness and should be addressed requiring the same policies as any other business.
The issues of a party are separate – just because a large group of people is staying at a site doesn’t mean that will occur. If/where it does, that should be taken care of by other existing laws against being too loud, or causing damages.
Think in terms of a hostel type setup – those are often what were once standard houses that now accommodate far more people by using bunks rather than regular beds in a particular room(s) and have no issues with the increased capacity.
Often times in these areas, the groups are just looking for an inexpensive option (when divided by a larger number of people) and aren’t spending as much time in the property as a standard owner might (just using it for sleeping and maybe some meals, while out all day doing other activities).
The negative effects of STRs are well-documented, from rising rents and decreased supply (https://therealdeal.com/2015/10/14/how-much-does-airbnb-impact-nyc-rents/, https://www.dropbox.com/s/u4s1fcync2gseyl/AirBnB_Report%20FINAL.docx?dl=0), to gentrification, to noise and quality of life issues, to violent crime (https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0253315). And the arguments for the local economic benefits brought by STRs are deeply flawed: research in multiple localities has indicated that the removal of STRs would not cause the vast majority (95%+) of tourists to abandon travel plans, and STRs are simultaneously difficult to tax or regulate while generally providing fewer and lower-wage jobs than the other forms of lodging that they supplant.
Despite all of this, there are strong countercurrents against the enactment of any of the types of regulations that are needed to prevent this new situation from becoming even more untenable, especially for small localities in the restrictively-zoned and increasingly balkanized Adirondack Park. On a micro-level, commercial, multi-property, non-resident operators widely dominate the STR landscape–spurring an alignment of shady, intractable and financially powerful interests against underfunded localities ((https://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/files/newsroom/channels/attach/airbnb-report.pdf, https://web.archive.org/web/20210206130321/https://ag.ny.gov/pdfs/Airbnb%20rep0ort.pdf, https://therealdeal.com/2015/10/14/how-much-does-airbnb-impact-nyc-rents/). On a larger level, multi-billion-dollar internet giants, largely responsible for enabling the proliferation of STRs, continue to wield their considerable resources against any municipalities that have floated regulations of this industry; what ensues is a formidable fight even for the largest cities.
Lastly, the coup de grâce to the path towards meaningful reform lies in our legal system itself. For one, due to our nation’s notably laissez-faire and labyrinthine legislation shielding internet corporations from regulation, internet-based STR companies are given unusually wide latitude in escaping regulation (e.g., the Stored Communication Act and the federal injunction against New York City’s law seeking information from internet-based lodging companies to assist in its crackdown against illegal leases [ https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/03/nyregion/nyc-airbnb-rentals.html%5D ; and the Communications Decency Act and AirBnB’s lawsuit against New York State’s law enabling the imposition of fines against the authors of listings for noncompliant rentals [ https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/22/technology/new-york-passes-law-airbnb.html%5D ). And more importantly, our national culture of strong private property rights has created an impenetrable gray area, where the most disruptive players in the STR industry have found a home to thrive: consider the “right to rent” established by the courts (FGL & L Property Corp. v. City of Rye [N.Y.], Gangemi v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Town of Fairfield [Conn.], etc.) and the Fourth Amendment and its federal implications for localities seeking to conduct inspections of short-term rental properties (Camara v. Municipal Court, See v. City of Seattle).
As the skirmishes between New York City and AirBnB prevail, which find the City fighting for the lifeblood of its own neighborhoods, hundreds of large-scale, commercial STR players and millions of fleeing urban vacationers, wary of hotels, are ending up in our Park, as if we needed another gargantuan controversy to fight with our hitherto ineffectual sling-shots. We have been left behind, as our State Law addressing STRs, the Multiple Dwelling Law, has become an effective tool for fighting absentee landlordism on a short-term basis in the multi-family dwellings that are so common in urban locales, while the the transformation of entire neighborhoods of single-family homes into illegal hotels remains sanctioned and rampant in our Park communities. Ultimately, this is the same old Adirondack story repeating itself, of the Park as an inanimate wasteland of exploitative extractionism and cronyism, whose residents are provincial, second-class citizens compared to those who reside in closer alignment with the seats of power of Albany or New York City.
We, the landowners and residents, the local councils and municipalities, absolutely must advocate for the support that we need on a state and national level; and in the meantime, we need to use all of the local tools available to us to protect the integrity and sustainability of our own communities. Navigating our options for the latter will be an arduous undertaking fraught with peril and unnecessary controversy; we will need to be both comprehensively multi-faceted and nuanced. And all of this will be further complicated by the unique aspects of our Park, at once a world-class tourist attractions and a habitat for idyllic, space-limited and restrictively-zoned communities. Thus, I believe that, in the end, to truly tackle this issue and find a new equilibrium, we will need to look to the example of like Honolulu, HI and set hard upper limits on the total number of allowed STRs in perpetuity.
This writer complains that property values and new builds have risen since 1986 (where in America have they not?), that some owners rent their second homes to help them afford taxes and costs (which have risen over the years, as previously cited), and then she uses xenophobic fears of faceless strangers crowding into houses that are substandard (these seem conjured up or exaggerated). For generations, small Adirondack towns have courted tourists, local hotels charging as much as the market would bear. This writer’s arguments (essentially fear-mongering) and solutions (“regulation,” “enforcement,” “fines,” “permits”) are hard to take seriously. I’m not saying a cogent argument cannot be made against short-term rentals and their effect on communities. Or tourism in general, for that matter. I’m saying that throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks isn’t an effective or compelling way to craft that argument.
Primary residences are housing, and should be taxed and insured at lower rates than 2nd homes and properties used as STRs.
Recognize primary residences as critical infrastructure and 2nd homes and STRs as the luxury that they are…
Although I have been a year-round resident in the Adirondacks since 1964, in 2013 my wife and I bought a vacation home in Santa Fe, NM as an investment that we could also enjoy ourselves. We have a short term permit issued by the city so that we can rent out the house for as short as 3 days at a time to tourist visiting Santa Fe. The cost of this permit is $350 annually. It included an initial inspection of the house by the local fire department to make sure the house has working fire/smoke alarms, fire extinguishers throughout the house, fire ash buckets by each fireplace, low flow toilets and faucets to conserve water, etc. Our property manager, who also monitors the house for nose and over-capacity, collects a 7.25% city occupancy tax on all rentals; the same amount charged as if a guest had checked into a local hotel. At the very least, towns in the Adirondacks should adopt similar measures.
Thanks for this, it’s an issue with negative impacts all the ADKs (and beyond). There are many complaints about the shortage of people willing to work the tourist-industry jobs available, but this housing issue is closely linked. If the main jobs available are part time and/or seasonal and pay only minimum wage, then there simply must be affordable, decent and nearby housing for workers. Turning all the once-longterm rentals into short term vacation spots is compounding the problem. You named other important matters that need addressing, and we need to understand the full scope of the problems being caused for people here.
Our community leaders are doing next to nothing! This has been a growing problem for over 20 years! They are either complacent or profitting from this problem!
The only time they care is when they want your vote.
We would consider relocating to the Saranac region were it not for the short term rental free for all situation and absence zoning ordinances.
Bar Harbor, Maine, just voted to cap the number of vacation units in the town. https://www.islandinstitute.org/working-waterfront/bar-harbor-voters-cap-vacation-rentals/