Village attorney: Don’t attempt to block short-term rentals

LAKE PLACID — Village Trustee Jason Leon on Monday, April 6, asked what options the municipality has to take action against owners of short-term vacation rentals who are marketing their properties as an escape from areas ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.

The answer: none. That’s according to Janet Bliss, the village attorney.

“We as a municipality do not have the authority to direct that people cannot use their properties for a legal purpose,” Bliss said during the Board of Trustees’ regular meeting Monday. “If that order was going to come down, it would have to be at the state level.”

“Some short-term rental owners are leveraging the pandemic to encourage people to come up,” Leon said. “Maybe we can add some language (to the short-term rental law) that gives the village board the legal right to take some action in extreme cases, such as we’re facing now.”

Bliss advised against that. She said directing people not to use their properties for legal purposes could even raise constitutionality questions.

The discussion came nearly two weeks after the Essex County Board of Supervisors, by proxy of board Chairman Shaun Gillilland of Willsboro, released a statement asking short-term vacation rental owners to remove listings for their properties from sites like Airbnb and Vrbo and to stop accepting bookings temporarily. Gillilland also asked second homeowners not to travel here. Franklin County’s board issued a nearly identical statement.

Some local short-term rental owners rely on their properties for additional income that allows them to be able to afford living in this area. Other rentals are owned by second homeowners who live in the properties part-time and rent them out the rest of the time. Others are owned by out-of-town investors who don’t live in the homes.

With limited hospital capacity and medical supplies, Gillilland said he believed the “number of exposures will increase with the movement of non-residents” into the county from other parts of the state and nation, “which will result in an inordinate strain upon the resources of public health, first responders, health care providers, our hospitals and other government personnel.”

Lake Placid village Mayor Craig Randall and North Elba town Supervisor Jay Rand have also each advised people against visiting the area right now.

But despite requests from lawmakers, hundreds of listings with Lake Placid addresses remained on Airbnb and Vrbo on April 7.

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