Towns and state official disagree on Airbnb proposal

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Capital News Service

LANSING — At least one state lawmaker is advocating an end to a municipality’s ability to regulate the short-term rentals of homes often referred to as Airbnbs.

Resort communities like South Haven and Traverse City have zoning ordinances regulating how many and where short-term rentals are allowed.  

Traverse City residents help local authorities enforce such regulations, said David Weston, the city’s zoning administrator.  

“They’ll call authorities with complaints on noise or if they see a rental listing in an area that they know we don’t allow rentals,” he said. “We have zoning ordinances that allow housing rentals in commercial areas-like downtown, but not in residential neighborhoods.”

Rep. Jason Sheppard, R-Temperance, is pushing to limit cities’ rights to regulate short-term rentals and allow residents to decide for themselves if they wanted to rent their homes.

“It’s a property rights issue. If you buy a house you should be able to do with it what you want,” said Teri Ambs Langley, Sheppard’s legislative consultant.  “There are a lot of arguments that residents should be able to prevent the noise and undesirable renters that come with these short-term rentals but a lot of towns already have noise and behavior ordinances that take care of that.”

Critics of Airbnb say that these short term rentals take money from cities for marketing.

“Airbnb and these other short term rentals don’t pay money to the Convention and Visitors Bureau as hotels do,” said Linda Hoath, a member of the board of directors for the Sault Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “So that takes away from money put towards marketing for towns through the Pure Michigan campaign.”

Hotels pay 5 percent per room sold to the Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Hoath. They pay more if the hotel is in a larger city like Detroit or Grand Rapids.

But some tourism officials say the impact of short-term rentals on communities is mixed.

“Airbnb does broadly affect hotel stays, and I think we’ll see more of that in the long term,” said Scott Reinert, the executive director for the South Haven Convention and Visitors Bureau. “But this is also something that has really helped with tourism in a lot of these towns. So short term rentals are somewhat helpful.”

Reinert said that the current regulations are fine.

“There might be some people who feel like their property rights are being violated but we haven’t heard much of that here. The community here sees the current regulations as a good thing.”

Carol Foote, the planning and zoning administrator for Ludington, says  short-term rentals aren’t allowed at all there.  

Ludington, like many other cities, has a tourism boom during the summer and spring, she said. But the short-term rentals are empty during the rest of the year. And that’s not a good thing in residential areas.

“We really don’t want dark neighborhoods during the winter after everyone leaves,” she said. “We want our neighborhoods to stay neighborhoods.”

The bill is pending in the Committee on Local Government and Municipal Finance.

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