Down to Business: Short-term rental rules run gamut

Sunrise at Gramp's Old Schoolhouse in Greenwich, a renovated property rented out on Airbnb. (Photo courtesy Gramp's Old Schoolhouse Airbnb listing)

Sunrise at Gramp’s Old Schoolhouse in Greenwich, a renovated property rented out on Airbnb. (Photo courtesy Gramp’s Old Schoolhouse Airbnb listing)

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By Marlene Kennedy

DOWN TO BUSINESS – Fort Ann became the latest local municipality to put pen to paper and pass regulations meant to find balance between the pros and cons of short-term rentals last month.

The Washington County town, not far from the seasonal delights of Lake George and Gore Mountain, approved a local law that takes effect in January “to regulate the commercial nature of short-term rentals and transient guests.”

The text of the law recognizes that short-term rentals can be incompatible with residential neighborhoods and raise safety and health concerns, but also acknowledges their ability to attract tourists and “provide an additional source of income” to town residents.

Indeed, talk of setting limits on occupancy, parking, noise and trash – chief among critics’ complaints about short-term rentals – sparked a proponents’ group, Hands Off Our Homes, to oppose the law in Fort Ann and one in nearby Queensbury, in Warren County, that was amended last summer.

Short-term rentals – denoting a residential stay of less than 30 days in properties ranging from homes to cabins to RVs to boats – are really no more than a digital spin on the vacation and travel bookings of yore.

Online platforms like Vrbo and Airbnb made making reservations not only quick and easy but also customizable to a visitor’s tastes or desired experiences, leading to the explosion of short-term rentals, say two planners with Laberge Group, an architecture/engineering and community development consultant in Colonie.

That popularity has a perceived dark side, though, aside from the typical complaints: chipping away at local housing availability.

“Some housing is being bought up so that it can serve just the short-term rental purpose … and that does put a strain on being able to find a long-term rental” at a competitive price, said Nicole Allen, Laberge’s director of planning and community development.

She and Kevin Schwenzfeier, senior planner at the firm, offered a crash course on the growth of short-term rentals and municipal responses in a webinar last week hosted by the Capital District Regional Planning Commission as part of a scheduled spring series of workshops designed to help local planning and zoning board members earn state-required annual skills credits.

Mark Castiglione, the commission’s executive director, told me the goal of the series is to offer “timely training on current issues municipalities are wrestling with, and that’s certainly the case with short-term rentals.”

Laberge’s Schwenzfeier said localities have the authority to regulate short-term rentals under state municipal law that permits oversight of hotels, inns, boarding houses and other accommodations.

That authority can run the gamut from simply requiring registration to outright bans, he said. How exacting the rules may need to be can also depend on a community’s urban, rural, suburban or seasonal character.

But if oversight is on the table, he advised, “I like to say that you should only enact regulations if … there’s an actual problem that you’re trying to solve.”

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at  [email protected]

By LH Staff

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