2017-06-08 / Local News

Suttons Bay moves closer to regulating short-term rentals

Sending letter to landlords
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

Suttons Bay Township is pressing forward on a plan to regulate short term rentals and is preparing to send letters to the owners of more than 100 rental properties in the township next month.

By next summer, township officials say, all known properties being rented out on a weekly basis to seasonal visitors in the township this summer may be subject to a controversial new ordinance the Township Board adopted earlier this year.

Suttons Bay Township is one of the latest in a growing list of municipalities throughout northwestern lower Michigan, the state and the U.S. to adopt local rules imposing regulations on how residential properties are rented to visitors on a daily or weekly basis.

In some parts of the U.S., including Leelanau County, longtime residents are complaining that the character of their residential neighborhoods is changing in fundamental ways. The change is particularly evident in areas that depend heavily on tourism. Waterfront homes in which the same family once lived year-around are now vacant for much of the year and are being occupied on a weekly basis by renters paying a premium price for a private summer vacation spot.

While proponents of private property rights say local governments shouldn’t interfere with how homeowners use their homes, others point out that weekly rentals are not allowed under local zoning ordinances. The rental homes represent an unlawful commercial use of residential property.

In recent years, the Village of Suttons Bay and the Village of Northport enacted short-term rental ordinances that have met with mixed reviews but have been generally accepted by residents and property owners. This week, officials of the Village of Suttons Bay were working on an update to their own “short term rental ordinance.” The Village Council was expected to consider adopting the update later this month.

Since the Suttons Bay Township Board adopted its own short-term rental ordinance earlier this year, the Leelanau County government has held a forum on the topic – even though townships, not the county, play the lead role in crafting and adopting short term rental ordinances. A standing-roomonly crowd jammed a meeting room at the county Government Center in April to hear about the issue and comment on it.

When Suttons Bay Township held public hearings on its own ordinance late last year and earlier this year, public interest was intense as well. However, the township’s latest actions on the issue have been held in special meetings that, while open to the public, have drawn almost no public attention.

At a special meeting held last Wednesday morning, May 31, Township Board members reviewed a letter they plan to send this summer to owners of short term rental properties. They also reviewed a “short term rental application policy,” accompanied by a three-page form property owners would need to complete to apply for a short-term rental permit.

The Suttons Bay Township committee was meeting again yesterday morning, June 7, to finalize a package of materials they plan to send to their attorney, Richard Figura, for a review before they distribute the materials more widely this summer.

A draft letter dated July 1, 2017, addressed to Suttons Bay Township property owners, notes that applications for a short-term rental permit will be accepted beginning Aug. 1, 2017.

“Up to 150 permits will be issued for 2018. The permit fee is $200 annually,” according to the draft letter.

Township treasurer Cathy Hartesvelt has been serving on a committee that drafted the short-term rental ordinance and is now putting together plans to implement and enforce the ordinance. Other committee members include township trustee Tom Nixon, former township trustee Bill Drozdalski, township zoning administrator Steve Patmore, and staff planner Kathy Egan.

Hartesvelt said that at this week’s meeting, the committee expected to discuss an update to all fees the township imposes.

At its regular monthly meeting next week, the Township Board was expected to discuss hiring a firm that specializes in monitoring short term rentals online and helps the owners of short term rentals comply with the ordinance. A key provision of the ordinance is that the owners of short term rentals provide a point of contact who can be alerted and respond anytime neighbors have a concern about noise, traffic or other problems at the rental property.

About $8,000 had been set aside in the township budget to contract with the firm, “Host Compliance.” Most of that expense will be covered by application fees the township collects from short term rentals.

Violations of the short-term rental ordinance will generally be brought to the attention of owners through a warning letter from the township for a first offense, but can escalate to a “ticket” and fines as a municipal civil infraction.

Absent a short-term rental ordinance and a municipal civil infraction ordinance, the only legal avenue available to neighbors affected by rentals is to file a civil suit against nearby landlords, the township for failing to enforce its zoning ordinance, or both.

In Lansing, meanwhile, state legislators have introduced a bill that could limit the authority of townships and other local municipalities to enact short term rental ordinances.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in Lansing,” Hartesvelt said. “So, we’re just moving forward.”

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