PARK TWP. — Elected officials from several lakeshore townships spoke out Monday against a Michigan bill that would establish the right of property owners to rent out their homes as vacation rentals, calling the measure a "one-size-fits-all" approach.
As summer vacation destinations, the lakeshore communities said they are concerned about the impact unfettered growth of short-term rentals would have on residential neighborhoods and want to retain the right to enact local restrictions.
The legislation prevents local governments from banning short-term rentals through local zoning code and ties local governments' hands with regard to other kinds of restrictions on rentals, such as caps on the total number of units that can be rented short-term.
House Bill 4722 was passed 55-48 by the Michigan House and could be taken up by the Senate this week. Republican Sen. Roger Victory, who represents Ottawa County, opposes the bill.
The Park Township Board of Trustees held an emergency meeting Saturday, Nov. 6, where the board voted 6-0 to speak out against the bill, with a goal of getting their message out to legislators before Senate action.
"We're hoping that the Senate will hear that this is a significant issue," said Park Township Supervisor Jim Gerard at a press conference Monday, "and, quite frankly, if the Senate does not hear, I hope the governor hears. I hope the governor hears that this is an issue, this will destroy communities in our area, this will destroy communities across the state of Michigan."
The proposed law establishes short-term rentals as a residential use — not a commercial one, as some Michigan courts have characterized them — allowed by right in all residential neighborhoods.
The bill says local governments may cap the total number of short-term rentals in their communities, but that the cap can be no less than 30 percent of all residential units.
"If you have a community where up to 30 percent of residences are short-term rentals, the logical conclusion is this is going to destroy neighborhoods, affect schools, affect workers, worsen affordable housing issues," Gerard said. "[...] To buy a house in Park Township is difficult for the average family, and this is only going to make it worse."
Saugatuck Township officials agreed, saying the law, which requires local governments to treat short-term rentals no different from other homes, would jeopardize their registration and inspection program.
The township has launched a committee to address the need for "attainable housing" and fears the bill, if it led to the proliferation of short-term rentals, would hinder its efforts and damage the quality of life in residential neighborhoods.
"Prices are already high. Prices continue to go up," said Saugatuck Township Supervisor Cindy Osman. "When out-of-state people come in and buy a property, that's now not available for families and children, and it could be devastating to neighborhoods where I watch your house while you're on vacation, my kids play with your kids, I let your dog out if there's an emergency.
"If one in three houses was a short-term rental that cohesiveness of neighborhoods could be completely lost."
The bill's sponsor in the House, Rep. Sarah Lightner, R-Springport, said communities that ban or severely restrict short-term rentals "completely disregard" the rights of owners to rent out their properties.
"The solution I brought forward ends these bans while creating consistency and restoring the rights of Michigan families, so they can invest confidently in a home without worrying whether they will unexpectedly lose the ability to rent that home if they choose," Lightner said in a statement after the bill passed the House.
Park Township currently has no ordinances addressing short-term rentals; their attorney has advised the use is likely technically illegal since it is not authorized by local law, but short-term rentals, defined as the rental of a property for 30 days or less, have been tacitly allowed in the township for decades.
The township planning commission has been studying possible regulations.
"What we are seeing and hearing from residents is that it's becoming more and more of an issue," Gerard said. "At a special meeting, we had a number of folks speaking out about how it's affecting the neighborhoods. One family in particular had seven short-term rentals on their street. So that means in the off-season there's seven vacant homes, that means there's seven less homes available for living, for supporting the community."
Another compromise provision of the bill allows local governments to continue to regulate the number of short-term rentals a property owner can hold in a community, but local governments must allow owners to hold at least two rentals.
The city of Holland only allows one short-term rental per owner in its ordinance controlling short-term rentals in residential zones.
"Local owners renting their properties is a good thing," said Park Township Clerk Skip Keeter. "Corporations coming in and buying up a real estate market to flood it with Airbnb and VRBO tenants is not a good thing. The state has overreached greatly with this bill, and we need to return control of short-term rentals to the communities that are impacted by them."
Lakeshore leaders said they aren't seeking to ban rentals, but they do want the ability to find local solutions if rentals become a problem.
"The state is looking at a one-size-fits-all strategy," said Gordon Gallagher, manager of Spring Lake Township. "We think that this should be done at the local level, where citizens can come and talk to their elected officials."
This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Lakeshore townships oppose short-term rental bill