The internet has made the world a much smaller place, with strangers able to connect instantly through apps when they need a ride or a place to stay. While there are growing pains in this new “sharing” economy, the benefits outweigh the negatives. And the Legislature is right to seek protections for the expanding home-sharing industry in Michigan.
Popular short-term rental sites such as Airbnb and HomeAway have fueled a debate in the U.S. over what role the government should play, if any, in regulating the industry. States and cities are coming up with a variety of approaches. Michigan should come down on the side of protecting an innovative industry and preserving private property rights.
Bills in the House and Senate, introduced earlier this year, would do that by limiting local governments’ ability to restrict short-term rentals through zoning ordinances. Specifically, the bills would prevent municipalities from banning or limiting owners from renting their homes for less than 28 days at a time.
We understand the concerns of some local officials and neighbors who don’t appreciate a parade of new people staying at the house next door, perhaps creating noise and uncertainty. Those concerns should be addressed, but through avenues that don’t threaten the rights of other property owners.
Home sharing has proven hugely successful in cities like Detroit, where homeowners can benefit from renting out a spare room while guests get a feel for what the Motor City is really like.
Other communities aren’t so thrilled with how Airbnb and similar sites have encouraged homeowners to rent out their entire house. For instance, The Detroit News recently reported that Spring Lake passed an ordinance limiting owners in two residential zones to one or two short-term rental periods of up to 14 days a year.
That’s not a fair way to handle the rentals, says Brian Westrin, legal affairs director with Michigan Realtors, which supports the state bills.
“Lawmakers seem to understand the private property rights angle very well,” Westrin says.
Local communities should enforce other common measures — for instance, regulating noise and parking — to address the concern with short-term rentals.
Ben Breit with Airbnb’s Midwest public affairs office says annoyed neighbors should always feel free to report bad actors to the company, which seeks to remove such hosts from their listings.
Not surprisingly, the state’s powerful tourism and hotel lobby is fighting the legislation, along with some local government groups that see this as a local control issue. Home sharing has created competition for the hotel industry, and it would like to see more limits and regulations on these new rentals.
In a letter to the state House, the detractors got to the heart of their concern: “These short-term rentals also are unfair to existing lodging and businesses statewide who contribute so much to Michigan’s tourism economy.”
But for the Michigan homeowners who earned more than $25 million last year through short-term rentals, it’s a very good deal. Detroit is doing so well with Airbnb that it was one of a dozen global sites for the company’s new Experiences option.
This legislation seems like a fair way to protect a growing industry that benefits both property owners and travelers in Michigan.