The 2023 World University Games will be held in Lake Placid. Credit: daveynin, Flickr.
LAUREN YATES/ADIRONDACK DAILY COMPANY
A lawsuit filed against the City of North Elba and the Village of Lake Placid by a group of short-term vacation rental owners, who sought to overturn city short-term rental regulations on the grounds that they had ” violated ‘the right owners rights, was dismissed. The short-term tenants have agreed to dismiss their lawsuit.
The lawsuit, which has lasted more than a year, has “handcuffed” the town and village, hampering lawmakers’ ability to make major changes to local short-term rental laws, according to village mayor Art Devlin . Now that the lawsuit is over, the city and village are considering next steps in regulating short-term vacation rentals.
The lawsuit was filed in June 2020 by Doug Calvey, Carol Hoffman, Huda Scheidelman, Neil Sullivan and Stephen Norman, who owned short-term rentals in the area, according to federal court documents. The lawsuit was filed about three months after the village and city established a joint short-term rental law in March 2020. The lawsuit outlined 13 complaints against the law.
Short-term tenants alleged the law violated their right to equal protection; violated their right to be free from “unreasonable search and seizure” by allowing the code enforcement officer to inspect the property without a warrant or reason; violated their right to “due process” by putting a 90-day cap on rentals, requiring landlords to obtain short-term rental permits, allowing the code enforcement officer to impose ” unilaterally” conditions when issuing a short-term rental permit, among other due process claims; and that the law was unconstitutional and violated their First Amendment rights.
The city and town attempted to dismiss the lawsuit in federal court, and all but three grounds of lawsuit were dismissed, according to the federal court’s decision. One of the remaining complaints concerned the ability of the code enforcement officer to carry out inspections on short-term rentals at any time.
Former city attorney Ron Briggs said the city and village have since changed that aspect of the short-term rental law. It now requires the code enforcement officer to obtain permission from the landlord of the short-term rental before an inspection. The other two complaints would have required landlords to prove their claim of financial loss due to the short-term rental law — a lengthy and costly process, according to Briggs. He said that’s probably why the owners of short-term rentals agreed to drop the case.
Doug Hoffman declined to comment. Other short-term rental owners involved in the lawsuit could not be reached by press time Friday.
The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed on a “stipulation of discontinuance with prejudice”. This means the plaintiffs behind the case have agreed to end their lawsuit against the city and town and will not be able to reinitiate the lawsuit in the future, Briggs said. .
The town and village operate under a common land use code. For this reason, the two municipalities had to work together to create a common short-term rental law. This is why the lawsuit affected both municipalities. Town Supervisor Derek Doty said more than a year ago the town and village changed their joint land use code; now the village and city can take separate action when adjusting short-term rental laws.
Now that the lawsuit has been lifted, town and village councils can start making adjustments to local short-term rental laws.
Councilwoman Emily Kilburn Politi said Friday that a subcommittee of the Lake Placid-North Elba Community Development Commission, which is dedicated to evaluating the town and village’s joint land use code, made recommendations for zoning changes related to short-term rentals. Kilburn Politi said town and village councils, as well as the community, would soon hear about the recommendations.
North Elba City Council reopened discussion of its short-term rental law at its Tuesday meeting, when Doty asked councilors to start thinking about where they wanted to go with the law.
Doty said Thursday it was difficult to pass the initial joint short-term rental law because “there were always differences in the city and town” when it comes to short-term vacation rentals. Doty has said several times in the past that short-term rentals are more of a problem within the Village limits than in the town outside the Village. He said he supports the village’s desire to preserve its neighborhoods for long-term residents, and he anticipates that the city council will work with the village council when it comes to regulating tenancies in neighborhoods in the city, next to the neighborhoods of the village.
Newly elected councilor Jason Leon, who is also finishing his 12-plus-year term on the village board this year while serving on city council, said he wants to see quick action on the short term rentals from both councils. He said he would like to see the councils make their recommendations on the laws in about a month, and he thinks the process should be transparent and involve public participation. From Leon’s perspective, many people in the city and town view short-term rentals as a “cancer” spreading through the community.
Leon thinks the city and town should ban short-term rentals in residential areas. He believes the original joint short-term rental law was not strict enough to regulate the number of days a hosted short-term rental can be rented each year, among other things, and he is prepared to advocate for stricter rental regulations as a way to address what he sees as their impact on the community – namely, the lack of housing for residents and inflated housing prices that make it difficult for residents to invest in the region.
“(Short-term rentals) have completely destroyed our community, stripped it of its character,” he said. “I think both councils should be more strategic, more aggressive and more transparent when we re-address this… (Our community is) already on the verge of being transformed forever with no possibility of going back.”
Leon said new affordable housing developments are nice, but “it’s only one piece of the puzzle” if short-term rentals aren’t addressed. There’s not a lot of land to develop, he says.
Devlin said on Thursday that the village council would likely draft its amendments to the Short-Term Rental Act next month. He said the council had changes in mind in 2020, before the trial began, and was about to hold public hearings on the measures – mainly protecting neighborhoods – when the lawsuit prevented the council from implementing these changes.
Devlin said adding the concept of “protected neighborhoods” to the Village’s short-term rental law would ban short-term rentals in certain residential areas, citing Greenwood Street and Johnson Avenue as hypothetical examples.