News Story

Cities Across Michigan Are Banning Airbnb — This Bill Would Stop Them

It would allow short-term rentals to be regulated but not banned

Legislation being considered in the Michigan Legislature would help homeowners who rent out their dwellings on a short-term basis by establishing in state zoning law that short-term renting is an allowable residential use of property, not a commercial one. By doing so, it would keep local governments from banning short-term rentals.

Renting out one’s home or the family cottage has been, in some case, a generations-long activity, one that has become more popular with online services such as Airbnb and VBRO. But cities and townships across Michigan have begun banning people from doing it.

While local governments could not do that anymore under the proposed law, they could still regulate these properties to the degree that they can regulate other residential uses. Specifically, they could address neighborhood concerns such as noise and traffic under nuisance laws.

House Bill 4722 is sponsored by Rep. Sarah Lightner, R-Springport, and it has 15 co-sponsors. It is certain to draw fierce opposition from local government associations, whose membership include some cities and townships that have vigorously challenged property owners’ rights to accommodate paying guests.

“There is a trend of local units (of government) to try to use zoning regulation to take away property rights,” said Brian Westrin, director of public policy and legal affairs at the Michigan Realtors Association, which supports the bill. “There are many tools they would retain to regulate reasonable use. They can have accountability. We want accountability. We want (short-term rentals) to be good neighbors. But we also want to preserve property rights.”

Crackdowns on short-term rentals have proliferated across the country in recent years as travelers sought alternatives to traditional away-from-home lodging such as hotels and motels.

Most of the conflict in Michigan has been concentrated in tourist destinations like Traverse City, Mackinaw City and New Buffalo, where local officials have sought to limit short-term rentals based on allegations of excessive noise and traffic and disruption of neighborhood tranquility.

In St. Clair Shores, a homeowner who accommodated short-term renters in a portion of his home has been battling misdemeanor criminal citations. The local government has said he is using the property for commercial activity, contrary to its ordinances.

His case, represented by attorneys from the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, is pending before the Michigan Supreme Court.

Heather Curry is with the Goldwater Institute in Arizona, which has developed model legislation for states seeking to standardize the regulations that cover short-term rentals. Curry said the principle consideration in such regulations should be whether or not “what is happening is a normal, everyday use.”

If the activity — a small group of people or a family eating, sleeping and socializing under one roof — is indistinguishable from what is permitted in a residential area, local authorities should treat temporary occupants the same way they would treat long-term residents, Curry said.

If short-term residents are disruptive and noisy, she said, they should be sanctioned for being noisy and disruptive, not for being short-term residents.

William Lenga, a Chicago-area resident who owns a family cottage in New Buffalo that is sometimes rented out on a short-term basis, said the proposed Michigan legislation would be a good start.

But Lenga worries that even with a statewide zoning standard, local jurisdictions hostile to home rentals would step up enforcement of nuisance regulation. The could, he said, use their police power to harass property owners for alleged violations of parking, waste disposal and curfew rules.

One of the three Democratic co-sponsors of the bill, Rep. Samantha Steckloff of Farmington Hills, has removed her support, a representative of her office said. The two other Democrats listed as co-sponsors, Sara Cambensy of Marquette and Tenisha Yancey of Harper Woods, did not respond to requests for comment. Earlier legislative efforts to provide legal protection for owners of short-term rental property have failed to gain traction.

Westrin said he expects the current proposal to be taken up by the House Commerce and Tourism Committee within the next few weeks.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.