Short-term rentals create friction in local communities | Local
FORT ANN — Five years ago, Katelyn Moskos and her husband, John, lived paycheck to paycheck to support their family.
“My husband thought I was crazy, but we emptied our pensions and our 401(k)s and made our first property investment,” Moskos said with a laugh.
The risk paid off. The couple now own and operate a successful luxury vacation rental business.
As she spoke, sunlight streamed through the windows of a nautical-themed meeting room upstairs from Northern Living’s office on Route 9 in the town of Lake George.
The Moskos own nine properties, but also make it easy to rent for owners who only occupy their residence for part of the year.
“I am not a real estate agent. We strictly handle short term rentals. I was in hospitality in Lake George for years and just saw the need for it,” she said.
Things were going well for the new venture, Moskos said, until about two years ago when they were approached by Washington County about their properties.
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“We got a call from the county telling us we had to come meet them, and we walked into a table with files from all of our properties scattered around. They told us, we have to close your houses for this code violation and that one,” Moskos recalled.
She said the county received a letter from the Fort Ann City Council saying the properties were not up to code.
However, Northern Living was able to prove the charges to be false and the homes remained open. Moskos said some minor septic improvements were made where needed.
The city council was still of a different opinion regarding the company.
In a meeting in the spring of 2021, Town Supervisor Sam Hall expressed concerns about properties owned and operated by Northern Living.
At this point, Moskos said she had never met or interacted with the supervisor, but her comments were brought to her attention by those present at the meeting.
Hall suggests the business is run like “the Wild West,” explaining that owners should be held to certain rules and regulations.
A neighbor of one of the short-term rentals run by Northern Living, Jeffrey Pepper, agreed. He called Moskos with a complaint, saying “she makes her own rules”, to which she replied, “yes, because the city didn’t have any”.
Hall suggested that landowners be charged permit fees to operate short-term rentals in the city, even though other local municipalities have been reluctant to charge landlords.
“When you look at some of the rates they get over there at Northern Living, it would be embarrassing and a waste of time to charge them $50 when they get $250 a night,” he said during the meeting.
The cost of short-term rental permits ranges statewide between $25 and $375. Hall suggested a possible flat rate of $500 per property or a sliding scale fee that would be based on income earned on the property.
Board member George Smith agreed with the supervisor on a fee of at least $500, citing the extra work that would be imposed on the city’s code enforcement officer.
Moskos said she felt the city launched a personal attack on her business, despite taking safety and liability precautions without being required to do so by the city or any short-term rental service application. .
She explained that people interested in their properties should complete a rental application and, pending approval, should review local lake and boating laws and sign a rental agreement outlining the rules of ownership.
After Moskos was briefed on city officials’ views, ‘Hands Off Our Homes’, an online campaign and petition, was launched to garner support to oppose short-term rental laws at Fort Ann and in the town of Queensbury. The website offers the option of receiving a lawn sign displaying support for the movement and the ability to electronically sign the petition, which has received over 580 signatures.
Fort Ann resident and business owner Cliff Nelson said he believed the campaign was “a marketing ploy used to surround (the Moskos) with cannon fodder.”
Nelson says the issue is often misinterpreted when minor details about code enforcement are highlighted.
“The real core issue here is the change in use of properties once they’ve been purchased,” he said.
He explained that the homes now owned by Northern Living were once owned by single families and now operate as “motels”.
As a business owner, he said he’s not anti-business, but recognizes the negative impact these properties have had on a community he’s been a part of for more than 20 years.
“I can see how these properties tear at the fabric of the community. These homes are for couples and families, not 10-12 new guests a day,” Nelson said.
He cited attendance at city council meetings over the past year as a reference to the number of citizens involved, adding that conversations between neighbors and Moskos often ended in loud and heated exchanges.
Like most municipal laws developed after a problem was discovered, Nelson said he believed Northern Living appropriated these proposed laws. He speculates that it is only a matter of time before national laws are established to regulate short-term rental properties.
The city of Fort Ann has yet to hold a public hearing on the short-term rental bill, and the city supervisor could not be reached for questions by The Post Star after two attempts over a two-week period.
Despite recent talks to change the City of Queensbury’s laws, a local couple are still facing difficulties as neighbors of a busy short-term rental property.
The Queensbury couple have asked to remain anonymous due to an ongoing legal battle over the case which has cost them over $20,000 in legal fees.
When the young family chose their home on a quiet dirt road, it seemed like the perfect place to raise their children, they said.
In recent years, however, they said they had lost the sense of having a real neighbor and now faced a constant revolving door of traffic, which often disturbed their children and prevented them from use outdoor furniture they once enjoyed in their front yard.
The wife explained that the couple didn’t always have negative feelings about the changes on the side and found the owner of the short-term rental to be friendly and willing to work with them.
According to the woman, the cooperation was short-lived and her texts were quickly met with short, sometimes sarcastic replies when she communicated with a concern about a guest or group.
After reporting their complaints to the city, the couple said they were threatened and then sued by their neighbor.
The woman claims guests insulted and charged her, her children were yelled at and, in one instance, people having sex outside could be heard from their property.
She decided to join Queensbury’s short-term rental committee tasked with reviewing the city’s current law and suggesting recommendations for any necessary changes.
While the couple hope the new law can fix some of the issues they’ve been having, they’re both worried after learning that Megan’s law doesn’t apply to short-term rental properties or tenants.
Megan’s Law is a federal law that requires law enforcement to make information about sex offenders public. This includes a perpetrator’s move, but time spent in short-term rentals, similar to hotel stays, is not required by law to be reported.
City council member Harrison Freer said any changes to the short-term rental law would not be in place until January 1, 2023.
Although the couple have encountered problems in their own residence, they both say that more owners of short-term rental properties should follow the example of the Moskos and Northern Living, where “they have done it right” by keeping a close eye on their guests and properties.
Jana DeCamilla is a writer who covers Moreau, Queensbury and Lake George. She can be reached at 518-742-3272 or [email protected]