News Story

Park Township enforces ban on short-term rentals

Property owners consider suing as long-neglected ban takes effect this month

More than 200 homeowners in Ottawa County’s Park Township have been renting out their properties on a short-term basis for years. Though the township has a ban on the practice, officials have not enforced it for over 40 years. That came to an end on Oct 1.

Park Township trustees voted in November 2022 to enforce the long-neglected ban, a tough break for short-term landlords, who have formed a group to fight the enforcement change. Although there is little apparent public demand for enforcing the ban, the new enforcement policy went into effect this month, with no exceptions for preexisting rental properties.

Trustees do not have good reasons for ruling out any grandfather provisions, Jeremy Allen, president of Park Township Neighbors, told Michigan Capitol Confidential. The township’s decision, he said, could harm property owners and the community.

Township officials say otherwise.

“Eliminating short-term rentals in residential districts was in the best interest of Park Township by maintaining the character of our residential community,” Township Manager Howard Fink said in a press release issued after the November 2022 vote. Township leaders said they had received numerous complaints about short-term rental property owners over a two-year period.

Michigan Capitol Confidential found, however, that few people had filed complaints with the township.

A single complaint was registered in 2020, according to the township’s response to a Freedom of Information Act inquiry. Seven complaints were filed in 2021 by seven different people. Five of those reports were from anonymous individuals, the township said. Officials did not say how they were able to determine that the anonymous reports came from five separate individuals rather than a single person.

Complaints ballooned in 2022, with the township recording them from 14 different people. Seven of those complaints were anonymous. Eleven complaints came from the same person. One person filed two complaints. Five complaints came from persons known to the township.

The township had other options, according to Steve Delie, an expert in local government at the Mackinac Center.

“It’s unfortunate that local governments continue to enact blanket bans on short-term rentals, especially when there are alternative measures at their disposal,” Delie told CapCon. “Rather than depriving property owners of their income through outright bans, local governments can instead take action through existing ordinances to address problematic short-term rentals on a case-by-case basis. Municipalities should strive for tailored solutions that balance entrepreneurship and property rights with community well-being.”

Park Township residents seem to share that view, according to a poll of 412 residents by the firm American Strategies. The survey asked: “Overall, do you favor or oppose the Board of Trustees’ decision to ban residential property owners from renting out their property as vacation rentals for short-term stays?”

Few respondents supported the ban, with 58% opposed, 36% in favor, and the rest having no opinion.

Allen wants the township to work out a compromise with the people who have been using their properties for short-term rentals. But it has not agreed to any concessions or modifications, he said. Though property owners are considering a lawsuit as well as efforts to get popular support to rewrite the ordinance or recall the trustees who voted to enforce it, Allen said some owners may just end up selling.

Many of the residents who purchased second homes in Park Township could only afford them because the rental income offsets property expenses, Allen said. His group may hire a research firm to study the impact short-term rentals have on the township and on nearby businesses.

Jim Gerard, supervisor of Park Township, told CapCon that the enforcement plan has been in the works since last year. The township gave owners ample time to adjust, he said.

Gerard wrote, in part:

The board has come to a conclusion to not allow short term rentals (Less than 30 days) in Park Township due to the impact it has had on the community. This decision was made last year. We made a decision to not enforce the ordinance until 10/1/2023. The purpose was to allow another season of rentals and to give ample time for those that did have short term rentals to make appropriate plans given the notice of enforcement. The owners of short-term rentals had almost a year for planning. The opportunity for long term rental (30 days or more) is still an option for them. The enforcement of the ordinance will begin on 10/1/23 as planned.

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.