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Bills would prevent communities from banning short-term rentals like Airbnb

You Can Rent Bella Swan’s ‘Twilight’ House On Airbnb
Posted at 7:18 AM, May 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-28 07:18:06-04

(WXYZ) — With more people looking for a getaway, it's creating a huge demand for rental homes this summer. If you can find one, it's likely going to cost you.

Airbnb already has four million hosts on its platform, and the home-sharing website says it needs even more hosts.

What you may not have known is there is a legislative battle playing out in Michigan over property rights and municipal rights over short-term rentals, like Airbnb.

Short-term rentals are a tradition for some, but they've grown with the emergence of Airbnb and VRBO. The average Airbnb host in Michigan made $5,300 in 2020.

Imagine renting out your home for the weekend and then getting charged criminally because the city says your home isn't zoned as a rental. That happened to a metro Detroit man, and legislation is hoping to protect what some say is a long-time Michigan tradition, but some cities worry the law could take away their rights.

Cathy Lloyd-Langley loves adventure and she loves Michigan. Instead of camping, Cathy and her friends booked homes through AirBnB. "It kind of felt good to be able to support people who just needed to supplement their income," she said.

Brian Westrin, the general counsel with the Michigan Realtors Association, said it feels good to the homeowner, too. "Property owners have never been in a better position to maximize the value of their property," he said.

In 2020 on Airbnb alone, Michigan hosts made an average of $5,300.

Airbnb's senior vice president of policy says more and more people are driving from one part of Michigan to another, opting to vacation in a home with their immediate family and friends.

"Airbnb was already in the process of becoming mainstream prior to the pandemic, but the pandemic really accelerated that," he said. "Now you have people who recognize its a safe option and typically costs less."

City leaders are noticing the boom and some are concerned about the growth.

"We have a population of about 3,700 people which means we have one short-term rental for every 16 people in our community," Michael Caine, the city manager for Boyne City, said.

The lakeshore community tourism industry is busier than ever, but Caine pointed out they need permanent residents to work full-time so vacationers can play.

"If allowed to go unchecked, the abundance of these mini-hotels could reduce the homes available for those who live and work in our community," Caine said.

Real estate experts say the high cost of lumber and low mortgage rates are big contributors to the housing shortage; short-term rentals are not to blame. "Short-term rentals are essentially taking a residential property and turning it into commercial use," Caine said.

Across the state, some cities like Ann Arbor are attempting to place restrictions on short-term rentals, and others are using zoning to stop it altogether.

In St Clair Shores, one host accused of engaging in commercial activity by renting his home out is fighting criminal charges.

"Without a definition that characterizes the short-term rental as a permitted residential use, you are left in that gray area," Westrin said. He says Senate Bill 446 and House Bill 4722 would remove the gray area and prevent any municipality from banning short-term residential rentals.

Some communities are pushing back.

"We're just opposed to this regulation which takes our ability and that of all communities in Michigan away," Caine in Boyne City said.

if passed, communities would still have the power to regulate through nuisance ordinances, and health and safety ordinances, Westrin says.

"We want to make sure that it's preserved as residential use, but those people who choose to rent and those people who choose to open up their property to others, they have to be accountable for the behaviors that occur," Westrin said.