Monday, August 7, 2023

Taking Stock of Housing: A complicated relationship with STRs

STRs graphic

After talking with multiple people representing multiple sides of the short-term rental issue, it starts to become apparent that at least part of the problem is the phrase “short-term rental” itself.

While it can’t be said that no two STRs are alike, from a legal standpoint, “short-term-rental” is an inconveniently broad net that includes the elderly widow who is renting out a room of her home to quiet guests in order to pay the taxes, to what are basically small hotels run by LLCs filled with boisterous vacationers intent on partying. And everything in between.

Local STR ordinances try to differentiate between “good” STRs and “bad” STRs, discouraging them on one hand while not doing too much to damage their admitted economic benefits on the other.

STRs are also viewed differently in different communities. In Hamilton County, where residents are sparse and job opportunities even sparser — and where seasonal homes account for 80% or the housing stock — there seems to be a more philosophical (or fatalistic) attitude toward STRs than in Lake Placid, Keene or Wilmington, where “short-term rentals” are fighting words on one side or the other.

A few people I’ve talked with think that the Adirondacks is in something of an STR bubble that is due for a market correction, caused by an overabundance of supply, increasing regulations and the basic truth that being a landlord isn’t always a whole lot of fun.

In this scenario, houses that are now short-term rentals will come back on the market available to residents, albeit at a price not so many residents can afford.

But most view STRs as they would an invasive species that is too far out of hand to do much about, save for pulling up around the edges. As discussed in this week’s installment of Taking Stock,” there’s too much money to be made, and STRs have too much of a toehold, for the ship to return to port.

How did this happen? Lots of STRs were already here before Airbnb became a thing, so in that sense they are a pre-existing condition.

I heard one Keene resident grumble that the town always had long- and short-term housing and the only thing new was the drama, perpetuated  by the introduction of an STR ordinance itself.But even so, there is no denying the acceleration in STRs throughout the Park.

Governments are always slow to react, and when STRs caught fire they became entrenched before elected officials could get out in front of the issue.

And perhaps the reason governments were slow to act is that STRs look so, well, normal. Perfectly camouflaged as typical neighborhood homes, a property could flip from permanent to seasonal housing without anyone but the closest neighbors knowing the difference. Maybe if there had been a law requiring all STRs be painted orange, the STR wouldn’t have snuck up the way it did.

This first appeared in Adirondack Explorer’s “Taking Stock of Housing” newsletter, a special, limited series looking into housing issues in the Adirondacks. Click here to sign up.

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Tim Rowland is a humor columnist for Herald-Mail Media in Hagerstown, Md., and a New York Times bestselling author. His books include High Peaks; A History of Hiking the Adirondacks from Noah to Neoprene and Strange and Unusual Stories of New York City. He has climbed the 46 high peaks, is an avid bicyclist, and trout tremble with fear when they see his approaching shadow. He and his wife Beth are residents of Jay, N.Y.

7 Responses

  1. (I am a former planning board member and have been involved in hundreds of land use appeals, applications, conditional use permits etc from all sides of the table.) The reason we have zoning is to control and manage the orderly growth, development and use of our land. The usual problem with STRs is the conversion of a single family residence in a neighborhood zoned “single family” to defacto “commercial”. Every real estate speculator, planning board and bank knows that if you can somehow convert any land anywhere that is zoned residential or farm, into commercial or industrial you instantly magnify its value 10 or 100 fold. This is why when attempting this legally you have to go thru a pubic hearing and an official planning vote process. STR’s just a are a short circuit of the zoning process. And as for as the legendary little old widow lady just trying to pay her taxes – if you ever serve on a planning committee you become very familiar with this tear jerking story every time somebody wants to add a non approved living unit in a area where zoning forbids it. (Or else somebody’s relative has cancer and needs care). but over time You destroy the integrity of your community when you allow end runs around zoning and this is all STRs are. If a little old lady can’t pay her taxes the community should step up or let her move to an apartment or condo. You cannot have a working class if you allow your middle income housing stock to become fodder for real estate speculation. If we want places for teachers and policemen to live you have to just close down all the STRs. There are no non-fattening hot fudge sundaes in zoning or in life.

    • Rob says:

      Why should the community step up if a little old lady can’t pay her taxes?? She has the right to move to a condo or apartment if she chooses. What does the community have to do with this.
      How do STR affect whether teachers or policemen have a place to live?? I think that is going to apply more to the district and the area where someone is choosing to live than whether there are STRs or not.

  2. drdirt says:

    NIMBY ,.,.,. until your neighbor switches to STR, it never was an issue. We’re all happy for our friends and relatives who are able to pay their taxes through the added income, but Tim is right about the aggravation of noisy rental neighbors.
    Perhaps the answer is lower town and school taxes for everyone by increasing local taxes on STR’s.

    • Rob says:

      So you propose paying less than your neighbor who owns an STR? How do you feel you should pay less than your neighbor?? Almost as good as no STR’s because people make noise. I’m sure I’ll get to one of those comments below.

  3. Mary says:

    If someone is renting a small apartment for 200 a night and it becomes illegal… will they then take in a low income family that can pay 200 per night? No because the local govt will never approve that space for a multi residence … never will that happen no matter what the rent.

    The real problem is that the local zoning boards don’t want low income rentals. The hotels don’t want short term rentals.

    I have a couple of short term rentals on my street and there is no problem getting along. I doubt anyone has complained.

    The owners are not going to sell… and if there are fewer renters, they are not going to sell.

    The only difference would be a few less families on the street in the summer months… a fee less people to shop locally

  4. Bill Keller says:

    The bigger issue is the cost of a home today, In the Adirondacks “The median sales price increased 19.4% in July compared to last year, jumping from $301,477 to $360,000”. Not many can afford home prices like these.

    • Rob says:

      Prices are only getting worse. Don’t worry I’ve read a few articles that people are trying for some affordable housing in the park. That will help attract people to want to live there.

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