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Detroit just banned Airbnb without anyone knowing it [updated]

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Here’s what we know so far

Photo by Michelle & Chris Gerard

Update: The city has issued a statement saying that the new ordinance is under legal review and they won’t be enforcing it at this time.

This week, a new zoning ordinance went into effect that would ban certain Airbnb units in R1 and R2 zones—single-family and duplexes (more on that below). Property owners have received cease and desist letters saying they need to discontinue their homes as Airbnb units.

The ordinance went through the City Planning Commission, then City Council last year, and took effect this week. David Bell, director of the Buildings, Safety Engineering & Environmental Department (BSEED), the department that would enforce the ordinance, says they will not be enforcing it until it goes through a legal review.

In a statement on February 9, Bell says,

Detroit homeowners have been able to rent out a room in their homes for more than 100 years and we don’t believe the new ordinance was intended to take away that right. The ordinance as written appears to ban all homeowners from having even their own friends and relatives stay at their homes if that friend or relative is paying them rent. The public was never told that was intended. I have asked the law department to review this question and give BSEED guidance.

Media reports that enforcement efforts have begun under this ordinance are false. Over the last two years there have been a few enforcement actions that have involved Airbnb properties, but those tickets have arisen from other complaints or violations related to those properties.

Until the law department review is complete, BSEED will not be ticketing homeowners for renting out rooms in their own residence, whether through airbnb or otherwise. BSEED and the administration will be working with City Council to resolve these issues.

As for the cease and desist letters, Curbed spoke with a building inspector for the city—who wanted to remain anonymous—who said, “The enforcement arm of our department spent some time on AirBnB, locating and sending cease and desist notices to those that are zoned R1 and R2, starting sometime around the holiday season.”

The City Council released this statement on Friday:

As City Council we understand there is confusion around the new ordinance that is generating many concerns. To be clear, in working with the Mayor, there will be no ticketing as a result of this ordinance until the language is clear, and if amendments are needed, they are made.

There is no ban on AirBnb within the City of Detroit. City Council, however, will work to amend the language, where necessary, to have a process with clear intent and understanding for homeowners to use their home for AirBnb rentals going forward.

The new ordinance was a direct result of community concerns and was approved after two public hearings and after a coordinated effort between the administration, City Council, City Planning Commission, the Law department, and BSEED. We listened to residents who were concerned about the integrity of their neighborhood, and it becoming a de facto, high traffic “hotel district.” We also understand the need for, and history of Detroit homeowners renting out rooms and property for supplemental income. We believe these two interests can, and will be met, and resolved for the good of Detroiters. We look forward to clarifying the language and working with the administration, the Law department and BSEED to make sure there is no confusion on the law and our commitment to protecting the integrity of our neighborhoods. Again, until such is done there will be no ticketing regarding this ordinance.

On February 8, we reported that many hosts have received notices that the city has outlawed Airbnb for R1 and R2 zoning.

The new zoning ordinance apparently went through the Planning Commission and City Council in 2017, and went into effect this week. The text added to the amendment states: “Use of a dwelling to accommodate paid overnight guests is prohibited as a home occupation; notwithstanding this regulation, public accommodations, including bed and breakfast inns outside the R1 and R2 Districts, are permitted as provided in Sec. 61-12-46 of this Code.”

Fifth General Text Amendment to the Zoning Ordinance

The vast majority of Airbnb units in Detroit are in R1 and R2 districts. These do not include places like lofts, apartments, or larger developments.

Airbnb has issued a statement saying:

“We’re very disappointed by this turn of events. Airbnb has served as an economic engine for middle class Detroiters, many of whom rely on the supplemental income to stay in their homes. We hope that the city listens to our host community and permits home sharing in these residential zones.”

Airbnb has been very successful in Detroit. 2017 data includes:

  • 430 active Airbnb hosts
  • 50% simply share an extra, unused room
  • Welcomed 47,000 guests to Detroit in 2017
  • Hosts earned $5.2 million in income in 2017
  • Typical Detroit host earns $6,600 annually through home sharing

Chase L. Cantrell, Founder and Executive Director of Building Community Value, alerted many to the new ordinance. Building Community Value teaches small-scale redevelopment in the city. Cantrell says that many of the people who go through their course turn their properties into Airbnb rentals, allowing visitors to stay in the city’s neighborhoods.

Cantrell says, “What concerns me most about this zoning change is that so few people knew about it. Our city’s archaic legislative website makes it very difficult for Detroiters to search for agenda items and to find information on how our representatives have voted. Transparency is the linchpin of municipal government, and our system remains quite opaque compared to other modern cities.”

Mayor Mike Duggan even touted the benefits of home-sharing in a video for Airbnb.

We’ll update this story when we have more information.