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Short Term Rentals

Only two people chose to speak at a Village of Lansing Short-Term Rental Forum Monday, as the Village Planning Board continues to contemplate rules for Airbnb-type rentals.  One was a landowner considering building a senior housing complex with short-term rental units that could be rented to friends and relatives of her long-term renters, and the other who used to run a Bed & Breakfast before the Village shut it down.

The discussion began because of multiple complaints from neighbors of a house on Oakcrest Road that was hosting events as well as renters.  The homeowner subsequently applied for a permit to host events at the house, but didn't pursue it after the Board discouraged it based on allowed zoning uses for her neighborhood.  At that time she asked to be involved in future discussions of potential short term rental laws, but was not present at Monday's forum.

Crystal Mullenix asked whether consideration of new laws is because of many complaints or just a few in the Village.  Mullenix is a Groton resident who's Crystal's Spa business is in the Village of Lansing just north of the Village Hall.  She owns land that she is contemplating building a senior complex on, saying that she is considering including short term rental units in so that visitors to her long term renters can have friends and family staying just down the hall from their own apartments.  She was interested in how new rules would impact her plan.  Mullenix said that if new laws are being considered because of one or a few complaints that perhaps imposing restrictions would be more than is needed.

"If it's just a few people I don't think it's a big deal.  I really think that, because my neighbors are loud sometimes for a couple weeks and then it's done."

But Planning Board Chair Lisa Schleelein said that while complaints about the one property prompted consideration of new laws, the issue is complicated and needs to be addressed.  Some of the key issues are safety, inspections, and enforcement, while promoting tourism and income for property owners, but also protecting neighbors in residential zones from noise and nuisance.

"People have a right to use their property at this point in the way that they feel is reasonable," she said. "We have had a few complaints, but we don't really have any recourse to pursue this except for, possibly, a noise ordinance. But one of the things the Village does not have a police force.  And so we're trying to find that balance of how to protect everyone, both the hosts as well as the neighbors."

Village resident Ronald Demer said he had built a bigger house than he needed for himself so that his Cornell friends and fraternity brothers would have a place to stay when they visited. That escalated into a Bed & Breakfast business when he began renting to visiting families of Cornell hockey players.

"I started hosting their parents and charging them," Demer explained. "I had to charge because of NCAA, the National Collegiate Athletic Association rules (that say) you can't do anything that's favorable to athletes that you're not doing for the normal public.  So when I learned that I had to expand this Bed and Breakfast for hockey parents from Ontario -- I had to use to stop it or go public. So I went public. The Visitors Bureau was delighted with me. They would refer people to me."

When the Village Code Enforcement Officer of that time learned of this activity he shut it down.  Demer said that it didn't mean a lot to him, in part because he didn't need the income.  But he enjoyed doing it.  Planning Board Member Carolyn Greenwald said that his B&B isn't necessarily unlawful because the Village currently has no law regulating B&Bs.  But the individual who was the Codes Officer at the time interpreted it as a use that requires a special permit from the municipality.

"He took the position that it was a home occupation and required a special permit," Greenwald said. "The winds of New York State are not really taking that position.  Generally people are saying that it's its own category that has to be dealt with separately. And so right now we're taking the position that our current code doesn't really cover it and we're gonna have something that does. But right now it's operating in the gray area."

One of the most significant recurring issues in the Planning Board's discussion of short term rentals is how new rules would be enforced.  Greenwald warned that over-regulation could result in state involvement, and Schleelein noted that without its own police force, the county sheriff can't be expected to enforce zoning laws.  That leaves the responsibility on the Village Code Enforcement Officer, which Greenwald said could become onerous in terms of time and expense.

Greenwald said the Town of Ithaca Code Officer has calculated that inspections could cost so much in time and money that enforcing them might require that a new position be created.  She said he had calculated that inspections could cost $175, taking an hour and 25 minutes for the actual inspection plus another half hour of administrative time.  She said the Town is considering inspections every five years, which would cut down on costs.

Current Code Enforcement/Zoning Officer Mike Scott said that currently an annual inspection is indicated for a special permit.

"At this point when you come in for the initial special permit it would require an inspection if they were granted a special permit, determining how much parking, determining how many tenants you could have based on the square footage of the bedrooms -- basically a formula," he said. "And then if you want to renew it every year we end up doing it again.  So you're talking once a year, pretty much."

"I don't think anyone contemplating this would be agreeable to paying, say, a $250 fee to the Village to cover these expenses," Demer said.  "You're going to easily recover the money in rentals to pay for it, it would be be reasonable to do an inspection."

Greenwald agreed it would be reasonable for owners who regularly rent their properties, but would be onerous for those who only rent once a year during graduation weekends when Schleelein said the number of people who need a place to stay rises 13 times over those who need a rental during the rest of the year.  Greenwald said that might require different rules to cover the different situations.

Schleelein says she was surprised by Monday's low turnout, and considering how complicated the issue is, more public input to the Board would be welcome.

"There is still a lot to consider when it comes to possible regulations for Short Term Rentals so clearly more conversation is needed."

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