Short-term rentals violate deed restrictions.
PECK’s LAKE – For nearly two years the PLPA and the Peck
’s have been defendants in a lawsuit challenging various deed restrictions that are part of every property owner’s deed here at the lake.
There’s a certain poetic justice, literally, that we were the defendants in this lawsuit – because, to my mind at least, we were defending a way of life that brought me (and I suspect you) to this beautiful lake in the first place. If there was ever any doubt about purchasing a home here, there certainly was none after I read the deed restrictions. The restrictions on business and commercial use of property here at the lake gave me the sense that disruptive change would come slowly, if ever, here.
While some change is inevitable – it’s not always for the better. Just talk to some of the residents of many other Adirondack lakes. One of the most dramatic, and mostly unwelcome, changes to lake life across the Adirondacks has been the emerging, and burgeoning, short-term-rental economy. One day what had been your quiet, peaceful, neighbor’s home could overnight become the neighborhood party house.
While this is happening all over – including here in the Adirondacks — I felt confident that couldn’t happen here at Peck’s Lake. Until it did.
There have been, in the past, issues with renters. But these were mostly few and far between. Recently we have begun to see homes purchased at the lake with the intention they be used as vacation rentals – with mostly absentee owners, some hiring professional management companies to oversee their businesses, and using popular internet sites like VRBO and AirBnb to advertise short-term rental of their properties.
In 2021 this came to a head, as the PLPA and the Peck
’s asked owners of a short-term rental property to stop. In response, the owners filed a lawsuit against the PLPA and the Peck ’s alleging that the deed restrictions regarding business or commercial use of property didn’t apply to short-term rentals, nor did they prohibit property owners from granting access to the lake to their renters.
These days it seems as if everything is an existential threat to something, but if the plaintiffs had prevailed, I do believe it would have been an existential threat to the unique way of life here at the lake. Rather than a homeowner community, where we all have a shared commitment to the lake
, and to the greater lake community — as neighbors and friends — investors could replace neighbors with tourists and weekend vacationers – with no connection to the community or the lake.
The court agreed with our interpretation of the deed restrictions.
Two of the courts rulings make up the core of the judge’s decision – that our deeds restricting business or commercial use of property “prohibits the short-term rental of property,” and the restrictions on granting access to the lake to the general public “prohibits…permitting renters access to the waters of Peck Lake.”
“Even if the Plaintiffs and their renters are using the property for residential purposes, and even if the Plaintiffs themselves are physically at the property a portion of the year,” the court ruled, “the commercialization of property in any way, by renting it out and advertising it on AirBnb or VRBO is prohibited.”
The Court finds,” the judge continued, “Restriction number 9 unambiguous given the intent of the parties as evidenced in the four corners of the deeds by the plain language used, restricting the use of the property to ‘single one family cottage or dwelling,’ ‘residential only,’ and restrictive of commercial activity ‘of any kind.’ Further, it is also clear to the Court that the activity of renting the property in the manner that the Plaintiffs have been, is violative of Restriction number 9.”
The court also ruled that access to the lake is not a transferable right that owners can bestow upon tenants. “It is clear that Plaintiffs are not the owners of any lake rights except for the limited access granted them,” and that “it is evident that the intent of the parties was to restrict access to the lake to owners of the properties.”
Anticipating questions as to the scope of the restrictions and the court’s rulings, the judge noted that the restriction on lake access doesn’t apply to “invitees” — for example your family, friends, invited guests — only to the “general public,” who have no connection to the owners or the lake community. For example, short-term renters.
For now, the court’s ruling enjoins the Plaintiffs from renting their property and from offering access to the lake. The plaintiffs can, of course, appeal. That is out of our hands. In the meantime, we will be discussing next steps with our
I want to thank all those who donated to defray our legal expenses, the PLPA members and Board who supported the cause, and the Peck
’s — who joined with us in defending the restrictive covenants found in our deeds. We are indebted to the family’s foresight in creating restrictions that not only protect the “Peck’s Lake” life, but that could also stand the test of time.
You can read the court’s Decision and Order here.