TUPPER LAKE — Tupper Lake City Council has begun discussing potential vacation rental regulations and is seeking public input on what the community wants to see in the future.
There is no proposed settlement yet, and there is no plan yet to propose a settlement, according to Acting City Supervisor Mary Fontana. But board members want to start talking about it, gauging community opinions, and researching regulations now, because they’d like to be able to have regulations on the books by next summer.
Board members say they want regulations to make sure short-term rentals are inspected for safety, to make sure investment properties don’t encroach on the housing of the workforce. in times of housing shortages and to encourage vacation rentals in some areas but not in others – namely residential areas.
Councilor John Gillis presented the discussion to council last week. He wants the city to consider a local law for a vacation rental permit system. Gillis said he’s not against vacation rentals. He uses them himself when he travels and said Tupper Lake needs them to support its tourism industry.
Vacation rental regulations were discussed in Saranac Lake and enacted in Lake Placid, where there are more STRs and the issue has been debated for several years. City council members say there aren’t many issues with STRs currently in Tupper Lake, but they want to be prepared for the future, for when and if there is an increase.
“We want to have the discussion now, so that five years from now we won’t be in the same position as Lake Placid or Saranac Lake,” said Fontana.
Board members said they support vacation rentals as a business opportunity and a driver of tourism.
“We just don’t want them all to be (STR)”, said Councilwoman Tracy Luton.
For Luton, the housing shortage is a concern. Tupper Lake is a small town, she says. There are already not many houses.
She said she was not considering proposing to limit the number of vacation rentals, but wanted them to be regulated.
“We are all in favor of short-term rentals” said Fontana. “We just want to make sure we have the conversation now so that we don’t have to take action later to try to regulate something that we should have had the foresight to do.”
She said the board wanted to hit a “very delicate balance” in his tone.
“We want to promote them and encourage business in this community, and we also want to protect the locals by doing so. So wish me luck, she said laughing. “I’m sure it’s going to be hot because there’s a lot of sentiment associated with short-term rentals. … You’re either 100% behind it or not.
It will be a difficult needle to thread, she said, but they hope to find common ground.
Gillis said he was speaking with North Elba City Council members about their STR regulations and a six-month moratorium on issuing new STR permits.
City Attorney Kirk Gagnier said the joint code for the Village of Lake Placid and the City of North Elba is a “good model.” It went through many iterations in a long process.
Fontana said turning rentals into vacation rentals is “lucrative” for owners. Gagnier said an STR owner can earn in months what a long-term rental owner can earn in a year. Luton said it was a good way to “make money fast” but people need places to live.
Gillis said he has been on the City Assessment Review Board for 16 years. Recently, he said he’s been seeing homes selling for far more than their estimated value to people who are turning them into vacation rentals.
He said that because it’s an investment, a business model, they know they can recoup the extra costs. He said it was driving up house prices and he feared it would cost families. House prices are still rising faster than wages, he added.
Gillis said four properties adjacent to his home have been converted from long-term rentals to vacation rentals in recent years.
“It’s fine. It’s a free country. It’s a capitalist country. It’s what people are supposed to do. But there comes a time. …” he said.
Gillis said he spoke with former city supervisor Clint Hollingsworth before his death in February. He said Hollingsworth told him he lived in a commercial area, so he kind of “sign” for having rubbed shoulders with possible STRs. But Hollingsworth told him “Neighborhoods are neighborhoods”
Fontana accepted. She said she had traveled recently and while staying at a vacation rental, she saw a beautiful neighborhood with empty houses. The whole neighborhood was mostly made up of vacation rentals, she said, and it was depressing to see dark houses where no families lived.
Gillis said he was concerned about that. With fewer families, there are fewer volunteers and less community, he said.
Town resident Lidia Kriwox said Tupper Lake was in a different position than Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. Tupper Lake has only a few motel options to bring tourists to town.
She compared her town to Saranac Lake, where she saw Mayor Jimmy Williams campaigning on a platform that the village catered too much to tourists and wanted to focus more on residents.
“We are not in this position” Kriwox said. “They (tourists) can’t come here and stay here because we don’t have room for them.”
Tupper Lake Public Library director Courtney Carey said she was new to town but worried she would see an increase in STRs. When she wants to establish herself and settle there, she knows that it will be difficult. She said the regulations could help homebuyers.
Gillis said if the city doesn’t have the staff to serve tourists, there’s no point in attracting them.
Fontana said she wanted to let the public know he was talking about STR regulations, as the city is looking to “staying one step ahead of the ball” and fix it in the near future.
Currently, AirDNA, a free vacation rental tracking service, lists approximately 68 active rentals in the Tupper Lake area.
Of active rentals, 73% are on AirBNB, 15% are on VRBO and 12% are listed on both, according to AirDNA. Of the active rentals, 81% are whole homes, 6% are private rooms and 13% are shared rooms, according to AirDNA.
Since AirDNA began collecting data in 2019, the number of rentals in Tupper Lake has more than doubled.