2017-06-01 / Letters

Legality of present short-term rentals not at all certain

To the editor:

I write about the recent passage of the Short Term Rental Ordinance by the Suttons Bay Township Board of Trustees. The use of homes in residential districts as short term rentals is an issue of significant controversy not just in northern Michigan but much of the United States. Debates between short term rental owners and their neighbors who want to either control or prohibit them continues.

The debate here focused on policy issues and neglected the legal issues. The assumption seems to be that short term rentals are in fact legal. This assumption is questionable at best. The 1994 Suttons Bay Township Zoning Ordinance controls land use and makes some land uses permissible by right and some by permit. This ordinance, as do almost all zoning ordinances, provides that unless a use is specifically provided for, it is prohibited. There is no mention of short term rentals in the zoning ordinance.

Thus it appears that short term rentals were illegal in Suttons Bay Township prior to the ordinance. Did the ordinance change that? To add short term rentals as a permissible use, the ordinance would have had to amend the Zoning Ordinance. It did not.

Proponents argue the ordinance is a licensing or regulation ordinance. An illegal use of land cannot be made legal by a police power ordinance, when the zoning ordinance, which controls, does not permit this commercial use of land in a residential district.

A recent court case in Allegan County held that short term rentals, because they were not provided for in the zoning ordinance, are illegal and may be enjoined as a nuisance per se.

The legal position of short term rental owners is not as secure as they might believe. And, homeowners may have remedies regarding short term rentals that they were not aware of.

Steve Redding
Attorney at Law
W. Broadway St., Suttons Bay

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