Wednesday, August 17, 2022

On reining in Airbnbs

By Zander Frost, Chronicle Staff Writer

The Village of Lake George enacted rules on short-term rentals to great success, Mayor Bob Blais told The Chronicle.

Prior to the regulations, he said residential areas “had some unbelievable things, like a house with a swimming pool — a fraternity had a party there with 35-40 young people.”

“They actually put Porta-Johns out on the front lawn in front of their house. So at least they had the common sense to do that,” he joked.

“Then we limited it to just the commercial areas of the village,” Mayor Blais said.

Prior to the law, “I’m guessing that we had 20, maybe to 25 houses. Right now, the permits in the village are down to about five,” he said.

Mayor Blais said the rule change has worked. “No complaints at all throughout the entire village on short term rental problems.”

The mayor said, “I suspect that there might be two or three that slipped through the cracks that are still doing it, perhaps, in the village.

“But we have not received any complaints. So if we don’t, we probably wouldn’t know about them.

“Our code enforcement guy can’t run around and look at every driveway and wonder whether it’s short-termers, but we depend on the year-round residents to do that for us. And they will.”

In the Town of Fort Ann in Washington County, short-term rental regulation is a hot issue.

Supervisor Sam Hall says their law remains in its “draft stage. It’s just a matter of trying to come up with what’s going to be the best for our overall community.”

The biggest issue is “the inconvenience to the neighbors,” Mr. Hall said.

He also cites safety issues, like animal control — “people come with pets, and they don’t always know for sure if there’s a leash law, for example” — and overpopulation and the inability of septic systems to handle the load.

Do short term rentals have positive impacts? “Absolutely,” Mr. Hall said. “We just want to make it so that the neighbors can feel confident with the noise levels and car traffic and neighbor traffic and the different things are all covered.

“And that the town can be accountable to all the citizens of the town for businesses that are being run within the town. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Fort Ann’s effort to enact regulations has triggered heavy pushback, including a billboard that went up on U.S. 4.

“Hands Off Our Homes” is how Katelyn Moskos titled the campaign opposing short-term rental regulations.

Ms. Moskos and her husband John own Northern Living, a Lake-George-based vacation rental business.

She said they have over 600 signatures of support from people who “may not be permanent residents of Fort Ann, but they own in Fort Ann.”

“I own seven vacation rentals in Fort Ann myself,” she said. “And then we have 56 throughout Northern Living” in the Lake George region. She said they own nine and manage the rest.

Ms. Moskos said of their bookings, “I would say about 70 to 75%, we do directly on our website. We do list on Airbnb, VRBO [Vacation Rental By Owner] as well as a couple other platforms.” She said all guests have to fill out an application, and “then we say whether or not they’re the best fit for that specific property.”

Ms. Moskos said she feels short term rentals are being singled out.

“There’s no quiet hours, there’s really nothing in Fort Ann…They’re instilling these proposed laws just to short-term rentals, not to the primary residents.”

She said, “I’m fine with obeying, but I believe firmly what’s good for one is what’s good for all.”

Ms. Moskos insists, “We’ve never experienced anybody saying they haven’t been safe or having one of our renters intrude on a neighbor’s space or infringing on their safety.

“On my end of it, as a homeowner of these properties, I’ve been infringed on by these neighbors. They think they have the right to come on my property and videotape and photograph, like physically standing on my property, is more intrusive than what my renters have done.”

Ms. Moskos cites positives of short-term rentals. She said, “Everybody that we hire are locals, for example. In the summer, we’re hiring over 50 locals to operate these homes.”

And she says the rentals help build year-round tourism. “The Ice Castle wouldn’t have survived without the short term rentals, because so many hotels, motels closed down because there isn’t that tourist attraction,” Ms. Moskos said.

Unlike Warren County, Washington County has no occupancy (bed) tax, but Supervisor Hall, who chairs the county Board of Supervisors, said, “Washington County has a contract with Airbnb. They send us 4% directly. It goes directly into an occupancy account at the county level, and then that money is used to promote tourism and things across the county. It doesn’t get broken down and go to an individual town.”

Mr. Hall said this deal does not apply to other sites or hosts that book directly with guests.

Mr. Hall said, “A lot of supervisors have no idea how many [short-term rentals] they’ve got. They’ll tell you they’ve got one or two or three or four, but that’s just a guess on their part. Those are the ones they actually know, there’s probably many more.”

Washington County lacks many motels, and Mr. Hall said, “Most of the smaller motels or hotels we had, they may still be the motel, but they’ve been turned over to Social Services. They’re more like guest houses.”

ns. And most of the other places are Bed and Breakfast maybe. There are quite a few of those throughout the county.”

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