Short-term rental regulation is a local issue

One size simply doesn’t fit all.

Yet, some Michigan lawmakers seem to think it should when we’re talking about the meteoric rise in short-term rental of homes in recent years popularized by online brokerages like Airbnb and VRBO.

Those lawmakers, including state Rep. John Roth, R-Traverse City, and state Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, signed onto a pair of bills meandering through the legislature in Lansing that would, to one extent or another, curb or ban local regulation of short-stay rental homes.

They, and others, argue pockets of tight regulation by some local governments infringes on homeowners’ rights. They contend wholesale bans and other restrictions on nightly or weekly home rentals (like the ban on them in Garfield Township) prevent lawful uses of our homes.

And private property rights are an issue we often would find common ground with the lawmakers. For example, the wholesale ban on short-term rentals in Garfield Township seems a bit harsh.

Still, we can imagine a plethora of ways the issue could be addressed at the local government level without blanket edicts issued by the state.

Constituents of local governments certainly could engage in the local electoral process if they felt a majority of their neighbors would support policy changes. Heck, the regulations in place in most municipalities in the Grand Traverse region have garnered laborious debate and lobbying from all sides before they were enacted.

The rules in East Bay Township are a perfect example — the kind of compromise rules generated by a thorough process that weighed both the concerns of full-time residents against non-resident owners who appreciate the income short-term renters provide in the lake-peppered vacation hotspot.

That’s the real conundrum here.

Zoning, planning and property use questions are generally accepted as best set by folks who live in the places they affect.

The fact is, short-term renting of homes is oftentimes a high-traffic, high-noise commercial use, and most residential areas have somewhat strict, localized regulations on uses that aren’t purely homeowner or long-term tenant occupation. Many of us have experienced or know someone who has experienced the nightmare of living adjacent to a vacation rental that generates a constant stream of poorly-behaved partiers.

Those are the times that would send even the most libertarian homeowners among us begging for some reasonable rules to govern those businesses.

Think about all the restrictions that preserve the relative peacefulness and character of most of our neighborhoods.

There are rules that prevent someone from opening a commercial manufacturing facility in their garage. There are rules that prohibit de-facto junkyards in neighborhoods. There are rules that govern noise. There are rules that dictate where and what structures homeowners can build on their property.

Local governments regulate all kinds of things related to the use of private property.

So why should we wrest control of short-term rental rules away from local governments?

Yes, local planning and zoning officials — especially in the Grand Traverse region where 25 percent of all of Michigan’s short-term rentals are located — face complex questions about this blurring of the line between homes and businesses.

It’s hard to imagine a state law would fit our communities better than carefully-crafted local policies.

— Traverse City Record-Eagle


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