Local communities should control short term rentals, not Lansing

By Dick Carlisle, AICP

The Michigan Association of Realtors has mounted a full court press in Lansing and in the media, asking the state to overrule local governments when it comes to regulating short term property rentals (STR). This makes steam come out of my ears! When I heard Frank Beckman’s one-sided interview with one of the bill’s sponsors on WJR I immediately phoned the station and, to his credit, Frank interviewed me on this subject a couple days later.

House Bill 4503 and Senate Bill 329 would require that all short-term rentals be treated as a permitted, residential use in any residential zone regardless of local zoning regulations. Municipalities couldn’t make them seek special use or conditional use permit or subject them to any procedure different from those required for other dwellings in the same zone.

Mind you, I don’t object to short term rentals. Some cities may want them, but that should be their choice. Local officials should answer to their citizens – the people affected by the decision. The Realtors are arguing on behalf of property owners who want to turn their property into what amounts to a commercial hotel. Since when should that trump the rights of nearby citizens to the quiet enjoyment of their homes?

These bills contradict the Michigan Zoning Enabling act and the Michigan Home Rule City Act. They could have far reaching, unintended consequences. (Or are they intended?)

Local governments that want to control STRs have very good reasons.

  • Some communities don’t have enough affordable housing or rental housing. Short term rentals further reduce that supply.
  • Many communities require rental property registration or inspections or limit the number of occupants. This legislation strips them of their ability to regulate rentals of 28 days or less. How soon do you think it will be before landlords treat every rental as a renewable series of 28-day leases to completely avoid oversight?
  • Neighborhoods where residents know and care about each other are safer. Even when they themselves aren’t dangerous, transients reduce the number of people who know what’s going on on their street.
  • These bills open the door to certain residential uses which, for good reason, may otherwise require permits or special land use consideration, like rooming houses, halfway houses and prisoner release housing.
  • Communities with a local lodging tax won’t be able to collect it.
  • Short term renters inevitably will care less about the condition of the property. Absentee landlords and investment companies may not know or care about damage and can be slow to respond to code violations.

Again, some communities may welcome short term rentals. It should be their choice and the terms and regulation should be left to the people most affected: Local residents, not state legislators.

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