2017-02-23 / Views

One short step into rental regulation

Thank you goes to Suttons Bay Township for continuing Leelanau County’s journey into regulating the boom in short-term rentals.

While we have questions about some parts of the township’s rental ordinance, which was approved last week but won’t go into effect until 2018, we acknowledge the need for a governmental voice in the business.

And we appreciate the efforts of Northport Village, Suttons Bay Village, and now Suttons Bay Township in stepping into that role.

The steep rise in rentals has gutted some shoreline neighborhoods that were once quietly and partially occupied by the same families for generations. Many of the remaining families no longer have relationships with neighbors. Instead, their visits “Up North” are preceded by fret over who or what group would constitute their neighbors.

Will the adjacent 100-foot lot be the source of a quiet family gathering or a rowdy party? Or will one lead to the other?

Folks pay a lot of money for property and in non-homestead property taxes to reserve their “place in heaven on earth” for seasonally timed reprieves. At what point would they rather be renters than owners?

We know there is a flip side, the business side, of seasonal rentals. Some families, especially those nearing retirement, buy homes with the intent of paying their mortgages through rental income until moving here full time.

The business of renting has become seamless through online booking companies and the many — and credible, we add here — local businesses that specialize in hospitality. An entire industry has taken hold in Leelanau with firms that book waterfront property, handle monetary transactions, and hire housekeepers to clean up at the end of the week.

Short-term rentals and related businesses have become vital blocks in the county’s economic foundation. Keep in mind that Leelanau lacks the presence of a hotel chain.

Frankly, we prefer bed and breakfasts over Hotel 6’s. But we still need to maintain balance in the personality of Leelanau County.

Suttons Bay Township has taken an aggressive step in limiting the number of “permits” it will issue for seasonal rentals, which now number about 100 by recent estimates.

Originally, township planners considered allowing only 100 rentals, which may led to a feeding frenzy for the final few permits. Instead, the Township Board settled on a limit of 150 permits with the hope of getting the rental business under control.

We wonder if setting a limit will have the opposite effect. Will property owners who have been waiting to jump into the business model now move quickly and in lockstep to the township office seeking one of a limited number of permits?

And we question whether hiring a national company would be the best choice for enforcement.

Our alternative? None for now.

But we have a long-term suggestion. We’d like all townships and villages in the county to consolidate their rental control efforts.

In fact, we’d prefer that the many — and at times fractured — units of government in Leelanau County work toward one ordinance that might be adopted by all.

Then we’d like county government to take over enforcement.

But that’s long term. For now, let’s take one step at a time toward regulating short-term rentals.

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