Vacation rentals are becoming increasingly popular in the Upper Saranac Lake area. Communities park-wide are in the midst of debates on the legality of such rentals, and the authority of municipalities to regulate them.
Local governments were at first reluctant to take a position, not wanting to place increased regulations and restrictions on their constituents. Now, with an increasing number of residents voicing concerns over noise, parking, and trash, town officials are taking notice.
Recently residents on both sides of the debate crowded the small, usually quiet Santa Clara Town Hall expressing their concerns. Issues pit neighbor against neighbor and property owners against the regulatory authorities. Angry letters and emails have only escalated the need to address these tensions.
Concerns are aggravated by short-term rentals being run by remote hosts and managers who don’t know or care who they rent to or how the guests use the property. On occasion homes are being purchased exclusively as a money-maker, never intended to be used as a family residence. Some attribute this to the prices of area houses skyrocketing, and the decrease in long-term housing, leading to the lack of societal contributors and productive local workforce.
While a majority of short-term guests live quietly and respect the neighbors, the Upper Saranac Foundation (USF) points out some concerns impacting the watershed:
- Renters can lack consideration and empathy to fellow users of the waterbody or for environmental concerns. They may not identify with the lake and the care required to maintain water quality.
- Increased wastewater loads on outdated septic systems. What were often systems installed for small family weekend cottage use are now overburdened with more continuous use and exceeding the number of users meant for the household.
- Renters may not connect with watershed organizations such as the USF or the Upper Saranac Lake Association, supporting the lake community socially or financially. These organizations fill an important role and are a much-needed component for advocacy of environmental stewardship.
- In Franklin County, where a bed tax is collected from these rentals, this revenue does not go back into the environment — AIS prevention or management, for example — or dam maintenance and repair. The natural resources, water quality, and recreational opportunities are the reasons why the rentals are attractive in the first place.
In a recent Open Letter to Airbnb, Jared Brock stated, “absentee landlords kill communities. They don’t have roots. They don’t care about noise or safety or cleanliness. They don’t care about schools. They don’t care about neighbors. All they care about is extracting wealth.”
The Santa Clara Planning Board has been working on a short-term rental regulation for over a year and in July submitted a draft to the Town Board for review. The Town Board has yet to act upon the Planning Board recommendations. If the board approves the proposed regulations, the draft law will be available for public comment before being voted on to become law.