Keep control local in short-term rental policy

When it comes to setting policy for short-term residential rentals, we don’t think one size will fit all for communities around Michigan.

For that reason, we’re concerned by the cookie-cutter approach which two bills pending in the Michigan Legislature would impose throughout the state, restricting local governments’ ability to regulate such rentals.

House Bill 4503, sponsored by state Rep. Jason Sheppard, R-Temperance, and the similarly worded Senate Bill 329, sponsored by state Sen. Joe Hune, R-Hamburg, have been assigned to legislative committees for consideration. Each would amend the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act, prohibiting municipalities from defining a property renting for less than 28 days as a commercial use and precluding them from restricting short-term rentals in residential districts.

Short-term rentals have entered local policymakers’ conversations in numerous Michigan communities during the past few years, a time in which online tools for listing short-term residential rentals have grown in popularity. Sometimes, these conversations have stemmed from complaints by neighbors of the rental properties, who’ve reported disruptive behavior from some renters and objected to what they see as departures from neighborhoods’ residential character.

Sheppard downplayed fears among some at the local level that his legislation would strip communities of their policymaking abilities concerning short-term rentals, and said the aim was to avoid outright bans on such arrangements. Sheppard said it’s rare for people to offer multiple properties for routine short-term rentals without setting them up as a commercial practice.

Like Sheppard, we recognize that some who offer short-term home rentals don’t approach the practice as a full-time commercial venture. In some cases, people who aren’t able to stay frequently in their vacation homes might see the arrangement as a way to earn extra cash when the home would otherwise sit dormant. At the same time, opponents of the legislation raise legitimate concerns.

If a home used mainly for short-term rentals can’t be categorized as commercial, communities may lose opportunities to provide the sort of health and safety oversight that they otherwise would for lodging operations — putting the traditional lodging industry at a disadvantage in the process.

Homeowners may have varying goals in mind when they offer their properties for short-term rentals. At the same time, these properties’ contexts and surroundings vary considerably around the state as well. We’d urge local officials to keep the perspectives of all stakeholders in mind when it comes to short-term rental policies, and strive for reasonable balances in these.

During the 2010s, we’ve seen Michigan legislators offer up policies that rein in local policy decisions on a variety of matters, from consumer fireworks usage to living wage standards — and now, potentially, short-term property rentals. During these years, both houses in the Legislature have consistently been controlled by Republicans — members of a party which has long espoused local control as a core value. In practice at least, we’re seeing some unfortunate examples of a trend away from that principle.