News Story

Ban It? Tax It? Leave It Alone? Michigan Cities And Airbnb

Short term home-sharing rentals don’t fit usual categories

Brent Little has a home he would like to rent out to visitors who come to his town for a vacation.

Little’s residence has a Traverse City address but is located in East Bay Township, to which he pays property taxes. Both municipalities have taken steps to regulate how property owners can rent out their homes via Airbnb and similar services.

Traverse City has been considering changes to its current ordinance on short-term rentals, and East Bay Township implemented a policy last year.

Little says the added regulations would cost him hundreds of dollars and infringe on his privacy.

“I lived in China for three years and they have Airbnb and there is no regulation at all,” Little said. “The government doesn’t regulate you because it is your personal house. We are more strict than a Communist government. I have a wife and two kids; I’m just trying to make ends meet.”

Across Michigan, more and more municipalities are restricting short-term home rentals. Some officials have gone further.

St. Clair Shores does not have an ordinance that prohibits short-term rentals, but its city attorney says the local zoning ordinance does not permit the practice. Last year, the city attorney showed up on a Saturday night — with a police escort — at a residence he suspected of being used as a short-term rental.

St. Clair Shores City Attorney Bob Ihrie said that the owner of the house had violated the law, and he brought the police for his own protection.

The homeowner was not present, but the police interviewed the visitors staying at the home about their relationship with the owner. The visitors had license plates from Ohio.

“The bottom line, St. Clair Shores has a zoning ordinance," Ihrie said in September. “The zoning ordinance details what is permitted.”

Ihrie said violation of the ordinance is a misdemeanor. “It is a crime. It is a low-level crime.”

In Mackinaw City, the village council enacted an outright ban on rentals of less than 30 days in part of the residential section of the village. The city of Holland has also banned short-term rentals.

East Bay Township has imposed a $450 short-term rental licensing fee. In addition to the notarized neighbor-notification letter homeowners must give to officials, the township also requests a photo of the home’s exterior and a drawing of the floor plan. The drawing should show each room intended for short-term rental occupancy and state the square footage of those rooms. The township also requests a hand-drawn plan for off-street parking.

“The short-term rental licensing ordinance was adopted by the Township Board on June 11, 2018, after nearly two years of discussion and multiple public hearings,” said East Bay Township Planner Rick Brown in an email.

In Traverse City, there is an annual short-term rental application fee that is $200 for years in which an inspection is required and $150 for a year when no inspection is called for. An inspection is required every three years.