2017-10-12 / Front Page

Legislators leery on state rental controls

VanderWall has strongest opposition
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

State lawmakers in Lansing are considering legislation that could have a direct impact on a contentious issue in Leelanau County — short term rentals.

State Rep. Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington) and State Sen. Darwin Booher (R-Evart) both told the Enterprise they’re concerned about pending legislation that would limit the ability of townships and villages to regulate short term rentals and result in the adoption of less stringent statewide rules.

Neither said they support the present bills before their legislative bodies, with VanderWall expressing the strongest opposition.

Representing Leelanau County in the State House, Vanderwall said that he unambiguously opposes the house version of the proposed state law.

“I don’t feel it’s the right of the State of Michigan to step into this issue,” Vanderwall told the Enterprise.

“I think short term rentals should remain within the power of local townships and villages to regulate,” VanderWall said. “I’m all for local control.”

Representing Leelanau County in the State Senate, Booher was more circumspect about companion legislation in the Senate.

“There has been only one hearing in committee on this bill so far,” Booher said. “I think the committee needs to go back and hammer out some kind of compromise, and until they do, I’m just going to wait and see.”

Booher, who served as a township supervisor in Osceola County for 28 years before being elected to the State Senate, said he prefers local government control over local issues, not state control.

“I generally come down on the side of local government,” Booher said, “but we’re still hearing from both sides on this issue.”

Booher said the proposed short-term rental legislation may come up for a vote in Lansing by the end of this month.

Local municipalities and property owners in Leelanau County have been struggling with the issue for years as have many in other parts of Michigan and the U.S. where vacation rentals are in big demand.

A public forum on the topic, sponsored by the Leelanau County Planning and Community Development Department in April, drew a crowd of 115 people with differing views on the issue.

So far, only the Village of Suttons Bay, the Village of Northport, and Suttons Bay Township have adopted ordinances regulating short term rentals in their communities. Short term rentals are generally described as residential properties rented out on a daily or weekly basis, usually during the busy summer visitor season.

The growth of short term rentals in communities throughout the U.S., and particularly in popular vacation spots like Leelanau County, has changed the character of some residential neighborhoods by turning many residential properties into what amount to commercial lodging facilities. That has led municipalities throughout Michigan and other states to adopt ordinances regulating short term rentals and limiting their spread.

But Michigan House Bill 4503 and Senate Bill 329, would amend the state’s Zoning Enabling Act and would prohibit Michigan townships and villages from regulating short term rentals. Under state law, counties already cannot regulate short term rentals. According to officials of the Michigan Municipal League who represent village governments all over the state including Northport and Suttons Bay, the legislation is being pushed by Michigan Realtors and the Mackinac Center, a libertarian think tank.

Opposed to the legislation are groups such as the Michigan Townships Association of which all 11 township governments in Leelanau County are members, as well as the Michigan Lodging Association. Hotel and Bed & Breakfast operators say the legislation would give an unfair advantage to the owners and operators of short term rentals.

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