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The State of STR's in the Finger Lakes

Our focus is to collaborate with rental owners and town board officials on responsible renting with reasonable restrictions in the Finger Lakes Region.

In the Finger Lakes, about 5 years ago we had only a few townships with short term rental (STR) regulations. Within the past year, this has intensified where we are now seeing discussions happening in at least one new town board meeting each month.

short term rentals in the finger lakes by town

So far, only a handful of townships have enacted regulations. These are outlined in blue on the map to the right. Lindsay Bolton, Director of Marketing & Sales at Finger Lakes Premier Properties, is part of the team monitoring these regulations and noted that "those regulations range from a simple online registrar to an in-depth application process requiring multiple Code Enforcement Officer inspections, evacuation plans, etc. We have seen a couple townships limit the allowed occupancy of renters, no matter the size of the home, bedding configuration, or size of the septic tank. All require an application or registration fee, which varies for each township."

The team at Finger Lakes Premier Properties has been following national trends related to regulations for years. Recently, the national organization, Vacation Rental Management Association (VRMA) has enacted an online database of regulations across the country. VRMA is tracking pending and active state legislation where they are seeing about 100 new township regulations pop up each week.

Reasonable Regulations are GOOD!

Our team at FLXVRA has been meeting with various townships who are starting to explore what regulations look like. We have shared with each of them that for the townships who have enacted a detailed application process have found that the process has become much more cumbersome and labor intensive than initially expected. With their already limited resources, some have had to hire additional staff to manage the applications. We have also seen town board meetings become lengthy as application reviews are taking up a majority of the agendas. Some townships are revising their regulations based on experiences they have had. However, the consensus remains that this is new territory that continues to evolve.

Many town boards understand the economic impact vacation rentals have on the region. Many seem to want to maintain the status quo of the number of rentals in their township, and we don’t yet know how that will play out as travel trends continue to shift in these post-pandemic years. At FLXVRA, we are in the process of developing data to assist townships in having a wholistic understanding of what STR's provide our region. Data such as the economic impact, the number of rentals advertised, along with the number of complaints files will be important factors for each town board to assess the need of new ordinances or rental regulations.

Nationally, we’re hearing that boards are having more issues such as how to get the non-compliant owners to cooperate and how to manage complaints. We are beginning to hear the same concerns at local town boards who are gearing up to enforce the violation consequences that have been laid out in their regulations.

Overall, there is a consensus amongst responsible STR owners that reasonable regulations are beneficial to the region. With proper enforcement, these rules will set the precedent for incoming owners to aide in preserving the sanctity of the lakeside communities across the Finger Lakes.

Short Term Rental Concerns

There has been a lot of media nationwide about vacation rentals, often hearing the horror stories of what could happen. Locally, we tend to have a few absentee owners (owners who own a vacation rental but do not live locally) in each township who are not managing the guest experience of their rental. While a majority of STR owners are successful at communicating the expectations of guests before and during their reservation, we do see similar complaints across the region which include:

  • Noise (sometimes associated with large events such as weddings)

  • Trash

  • Parking

  • Affordable Housing – This is more of a national issue especially in cities. But we have seen that the City of Ithaca has been having a problem with this since a large portion of their residents rent long term in the City. However, a majority of vacation rental in the Finger Lakes region would not qualify as affordable housing.

  • I would add that environmental is an added complaint to our region, mainly around the topic of septic tanks.

  • Trespassing - Guests

From our experience of managing vacation rentals, the concerns listed above are understandable. They are also preventable. In these instances communication continues to the be key factor to preventing unfavorable neighbor relations that stem into local regulations.

Why then, if the Finger Lakes has been renting homes since the early 1900’s is this such an issue now?

Its all about publicity and fear of what is to come. But a majority of the problem stems from communication. Communication between neighbors, between STR owners and the town boards, but most importantly, between owners and their guests.

According to the 2022 State of the STR Community Report by Rent Responsibly, they found that 86% of owners who have a good relationship with their neighbors had zero complaints about their renters. Which is 26% higher than those without good neighbor relations. For owners of vacation rentals, their success is dependent on their neighbor's happiness. Best practices include providing your neighbor with the following:

  • Your contact information

  • The number of guests and parking spaces you allow for your rental

  • A copy of the rules you provide your guests, including quiet hours

By providing your neighbor with these pieces of information, it removes them as being responsible for addressing guests who may be overstepping the rules you've laid out. The less the neighbors are concerned, the less likely the neighbors will be reaching out to the town boards. Find out more in our Good Neighbor Guide.

Responsible Renting 101

Finally, the most important factor that we can all educate owners of vacation rentals on is how to manage the guest expectations before the guest arrives to the Finger Lakes. Most of these expectations can be communicated in the property description along with a formal Guest License Agreement (GLA) that they sign off on and return to you. The GLA should include items of:

  • Occupancy - how many people are allowed at the home at ALL times, not only sleeping overnight.

  • Parking - how many cars they are allowed and where they should park.

  • Quiet Hours - make it clear to them this will be enforced. There are some noise monitors that can assist with this.

  • Property Lines - unlike many destinations, beaches are not public and they (and their pets) are expected to respect the property lines of the neighbors. Include a map if your property line may be vague.

  • No Events - make it clear to the guests that under any circumstances events are not allowed at the property during their stay.

We have resources on our website to help you manage your guest expectations before they arrive to your rental and will be adding more in the future. Click here to explore those resources!

This way the guest understands that they are staying in a community, not a resort. They have neighbors to respect, including property lines, parking spots, and so on. As we mentioned, national vacation rental trends eventually reach the Finger Lakes Region. We would not be surprised if in a couple years regulations were common across the region. Which is why we are dedicated to growing the Finger Lakes Vacation Rental Alliance today.

Join us on the mission to responsible renting with reasonable restrictions in the Finger Lakes today by Clicking Here!


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