Proposed bills address short-term rentals
Which should come first, a city ordinance or a state law?
In Michigan, the issue of short-term rentals has been controversial in several communities, as websites like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway have gained popularity in many vacation spots worldwide.
These websites collect fees for connecting property owners with vacationers, who want to short-term rent their room, house or apartment, rather than stay in a traditional rental unit, such as a hotel.
Short-term renting residences blurs the line between homes and vacation properties, and some people are concerned about factors such as the impact on the traditional rental industry, the availability of long-term rental housing and the effects of having a greater transient population.
Bills have been proposed in the state legislature that, if passed, would allow short-term rentals in all residential zones, and limit municipalities from imposing special zoning conditions or permits to prevent or regulate them.
Previously, the Ludington Planning Commission has been hesitant to address the short-term rentals issue, since some members were concerned that if the state passes the bills, that would undo some of the city’s efforts to regulate vacation rentals.
Planning Commissioner Kaye Holman, during the meeting Wednesday, echoed some of the sentiment that waiting for the state to make a decision might be best.
“I just think we have to keep in mind that the (state) government has not decided what it wants to do,” Holman told the commission. “Once the government makes its decision, we’ll know which way we’re going to go. But if we go through all this and do all these discussions and we make a decision that we’re going to do this or not do this, and the state comes in and says, ‘That’s not what we’re going to do,’ we’ve kind of wasted a lot of time.”
Bills were first introduced in April 2017, as House Bill 4503 and Senate Bill 329, to amend the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act. In 2017, many municipalities throughout Michigan publicly opposed the legislation. Local officials at the time — including Ludington City Manager John Shay, Pere Marquette Township Supervisor Paul Keson, Pentwater Village Manager Chris Brown and State Sen. Curt VanderWall — opposed the amendment as-written, saying they want municipalities to have control of their own zoning.
The bills stalled at the committee level; however, this January, an identical proposal was introduced again, now as House Bill 4046.
Several other Planning Commission members said Wednesday that addressing short-term rentals should be done soon, and the city shouldn’t wait for the state to pass or not pass the bills.
“Ordinarily, I’d agree with everything (Holman) said,” Planning Commissioner Nick Krieger replied. “The only problem is those bills all died at the end of December. Now they’ve been reintroduced in almost identical form. They might die again. We just don’t know. They might not make it for 10 years. They might not ever do anything, or they might do something tomorrow — such is the legislature.”
Ultimately, the Planning Commission on Wednesday recommended its Text Committee continue examining the short-term rental issue and the possibility of changing the city’s restriction on the rentals.
A Ludington zoning ordinance limits rental stays of less than 28 days to only be allowed in traditional vacation rental units — hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, boutique hotels and condos — and property owners who violate it could face a civil infraction fine of $250 or more.
Downtown property owner Ryan Reed has been urging the City of Ludington to amend the ordinance to allow for short-term rentals to be permitted within the downtown area — but not necessarily in residential zones — and his proposal has advanced through the committee discussion process so far.
During the public comment period Wednesday, landlord Brenda Brody said that she has owned four houses in Ludington for more than two decades. She said she has lost long-term tenants to competition from condos. Although she has no intention of using Airbnb, she does want to be able to short-term rent her property. She told the commission that the city shouldn’t dictate which rentals can be short-term and which can be long-term.
“I feel it’s an infringement on the rights of the property owner,” Brody said.
She added that the city should allow short-term rentals in residential zones as well as downtown, and not differentiate between the rights of those property owners.
“Ludington is a small community,” she said. “We all visit the downtown area. We all supplement the beaches with people. We all support this town.”
The Manistee City Council on Tuesday heard a first reading of a proposed ordinance amendment that would clarify the rules, so that bed and breakfasts and short-term rentals, including “Airbnb, etc.,” must register and be inspected by the city.
The City of Manistee contracts with Manistee County for its city planning and zoning. Rob Carson, Manistee County Planning Director, said he believes that in Manistee, short-term rentals are permitted in any zoning district that allows dwellings.
“This opens up all of the residential districts and several commercial and mixed-use districts of the city. We have not had to weigh in on a rental application request, but that is my interpretation at the present from the language within the rental ordinance and the city’s zoning ordinance,” Carson stated in an email to the Daily News.