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City of Detroit proposes big changes to regulate Airbnbs

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Does it go too far?

Photo by Michelle Gerard

The city of Detroit may soon make major changes to the City Code to regulate short-term rentals, which would affect people’s ability to use platforms like Airbnb.

In a presentation to the City Planning Commission on June 6, members of Detroit’s Legislative Policy Division (LPD) put forth the ordinance, spearheaded by Councilmember Janeé Ayers, that would put major restrictions on the kinds of short-term rentals allowable in the city, who could offer them, and for how long.

The goals of the ordinance are to increase the safety of the largely unregulated rentals, help maintain the character of neighborhoods, and reduce nuisance. Many will certainly question if it goes too far.

The ordinance includes the following provisions. Those who offer Airbnbs must...

  • Pay a $250 fee for an initial registration, and $125 every year after
  • Not be within 1,000 feet of other short-term rentals
  • Own and have the property be their principal residence
  • Not rent the unit for more than 90 cumulative days per year
  • Notify all neighbors within 300 feet that the property is registered as a short-term rental

There would also be an application process requiring the owner to bring the property up to code and sign an affidavit that attests to all the above, plus certain security measures like having working smoke alarms.

Enforcement would be conducted by the city’s Buildings, Safety, Engineering and Environmental Department. LPD members admitted that the department didn’t have the manpower to inspect every property and would most likely rely on a complaint-based enforcement system.

The 1,000-foot restriction was a particular sticking point at the public meeting. Members of the commission wondered if that would unnecessarily limit the number of short-term rentals—in certain neighborhoods only a handful would be able to legally operate. It could also mean there’d be a “race” to register one’s property before others nearby.

There is a clause in the ordinance stating that the department can make exceptions to this rule.

During the time allotted for public comment, most expressed support for the ordinance, telling stories of disruptive renters and absent homeowners. Some agreed with the spirit of the ordinance but worried about specific provisions, especially the 1,000 feet rule.

The commission didn’t formally recommend the ordinance yet, but it will likely be back on the agenda for the June 20 meeting, before heading to Detroit City Council. If approved by two-thirds of council, it would go into effect immediately. If approved by a majority, there would be a 30-day waiting period. It could go before council by the end of the month.

The effort to regulate short-term rentals has been underway in Detroit for some time. Last year, the city effectively banned Airbnb with little notice. The announcement produced an immediate uproar and caused the city to reverse course, saying they wouldn’t enforce the new law.

That ordinance is actually still on the books. Part of this amendment includes striking the language banning “use of a dwelling to accommodate paid overnight guests.”

Cities around the country have grappled with how to best deal with platforms like Airbnb, which in some places are artificially raising rents and disrupting quality of life. Some, like Boston, have placed similar restrictions on Airbnbs. as proposed by Detroit.