Editor’s note: This commentary is in the Nov/Dec 2021 issue of Adirondack Explorer magazine, as part of our “It’s Debatable” feature. In this regular column, we invite organizations and/or individuals to address a particular issue. Click here to subscribe to the magazine, available in both print and digital formats: www.adirondackexplorer.org/subscribe.
The question: Should communities take steps to regulate short-term rentals around the park?
By Steve Hoepfl
In 2018, I saw a news story about Cooperstown updating its local law concerning short-term rentals. They interviewed a resident about the new law. His reply was he thought it was good, that it would help keep the community a place where people could and wanted to live. His reply struck home and I started thinking about the effects these rentals could have on Old Forge and what laws we had in place for them.
I went to the next town board meeting to inquire about such laws and came to find out there weren’t any. I also found that you can’t build a motel in a district zoned residential. But it’s OK to rent a house to different people every day of the week in a residential neighborhood. Isn’t that the same thing?
Plus, I learned that the houses used for short rentals aren’t subject to inspections like a B&B or motel. I asked how many properties have houses on them among Eagle Bay, Hollywood Hills, The Fulton Chain of Lakes, Old Forge, Thendara and Okara Lakes and I was told about 2,600 properties. Three years ago it was estimated that 500 to 700 were being used as short-term rentals. In the spring of 2021 that number had increased to almost 1,500. Would that increase concern you in your community?
While the motels in the area collect around $500,000 in sales tax each year, no such taxes are collected from short-term rentals. The Old Forge Kinney Drugs location is assessed at $1,345,000 and the company pays property taxes on that amount. The rental houses are taxed as a personal space, but are charging hundreds of dollars a night or thousands a week for guests to use them. What are these rentals returning to the community?
They do make it possible for more people to visit the area. But everything has a limit. How many more people can our hiking trails support? There have already been concerns about the trail at Bald Mountain. Another example of limitations is the Old Forge Ambulance. An increase of people to the area resulted in an increase in EMS calls. This volunteer organization hired paramedics to handle the calls and the town pays $200,000 a year toward the payroll.
There have always been these rentals in the area since we are a tourist town. But the internet has made it so easy to rent now that it is turning our neighborhoods into rental hoods. It is no longer the second homeowner renting a few times a year to help pay the taxes. People are now buying houses for the sole purpose of renting them to tourists by the night. How would you like it if the houses around your residential zoned home turned into an unmonitored motel? What about the local couple with three children in the schools who recently received an eviction notice that the house they had been renting is being turned into a short-term rental?
How many more of the 2,600 properties will be turned into these brief rentals? I’m guessing many more, if this isn’t regulated. Because just outside of the Blue Line, there are over a million people living in Central New York, many of them wanting to enjoy the Adirondacks. There has to be a balance or there won’t be a community left that we can call home. A committee was formed in 2019 to address the issue. But, to date, no law has been put in place. ν
Steve Hoepfl is the owner of Christy’s Motel in Old Forge. He currently serves on an advisory board for the Town of Webb, looking at housing issues.
By Rhiannon Hamm and Sandy King
Communities are moving toward regulating short-term rentals and it has me a little confused. These rentals are a good thing. They provide revenue for regions, memories for families and the opportunity to vacation someplace while being able to skip paying a nightly hotel fee and allowing yourself all the amenities a home has to offer.
As a mom of three little kids, I have taken the hotel route. I have paid $200 a night to stay at a hotel that has a mini fridge, two beds and a bathroom. No yard to play in, no countertop for meal prep, no washer and dryer for dirty clothes. Need I say more? I have vacationed with other family members in a hotel and the time spent together is nil. The entire point of vacationing with family is to wake up and be together, to have meals together, to play outside and sit on the deck having coffee together; not spending the week in two separate hotel rooms.
Let’s move on to the tourism and revenue short-term rentals provide. When we open the community for new faces, we allow people to experience what makes our area so special. The Adirondacks, for example, is a nationally recognized area in New York State. Everyone wants a piece of it. But finding and affording real estate here is difficult. Not every family has the means to purchase and float another mortgage just to be able to visit the area once or twice a year. This brings many families to search for short-term rentals. Most working families cannot take off two weeks to a month for a vacation. Typically, a week is the maximum average vacation. When renters stay a few days to a week, they are experiencing all the community has to offer. They are going to dinner, hiking, kayaking, shopping, etc.
The amount of traffic these short-term rentals bring is no more than normal local traffic traveling to and from work daily. I could argue that short-term rentals are less traffic-causing than the local families living in the community. When they visit, they are usually parking and walking to most destinations. They aren’t running errands, driving to and from day care and work, grocery shopping twice a week. The idea that short-term renters are causing an influx in traffic is a little far-fetched.
These rentals are nice homes. They are kept up nicely and cleaned weekly. Lawns are maintained to a higher standard and homes are cleaned to immaculate condition because you want guests to come back. You don’t have garbage and debris stored on the side yard, you don’t have lawn ornaments crowding the front yard and sidewalk. These rentals are not community eyesores; they are quite the opposite.
Last, but most importantly: Owning a short-term rental allows the owner to have a home they can vacation in themselves, spend holidays with their family and someday pass down to their children without having the financial stress of paying for them out of pocket. Renting them allows you to pay the mortgage and the bills but keep them for your family. I can speak for 90% of rentals when I say these are not our bread and butter. You rent them to give other families a safe, nice, clean home to vacation in, and while doing so, you make money to pay the mortgage so you have a slice of the heaven of owning a home in a beautiful, desired area. Isn’t that the American dream?
Sandy King, a native of Old Forge, previously owned and rented homes in Thendara. She sold her properties to Rhiannon Hamm and her husband this July.
Photos from Old Forge by Jamie Organski