Detroit — Building officials say they will not enforce an apparent city ban of some Airbnb rentals until there is a legal review of an ordinance that went into effect this week.
The ordinance, approved by the Detroit City Council in November, prohibits an owner-occupied-unit to be used for paid overnight guests. According to information listed online in the Detroit City Code, the rule went into effect Feb. 6, catching some city officials by surprise.
“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,” said David Bell, director of the Buildings, Safety Engineering & Environmental Department for the City of Detroit, in a statement Friday.
“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 (the department) guidance.”
Bell said that during the last two years there have been some enforcement actions involving Airbnb properties, but those tickets were from other complaints or violations related to the properties.
“Until the law department review is complete, (the department) will not be ticketing homeowners for renting out rooms in their own residence, whether through Airbnb or otherwise,” Bell said. “(The department) and the administration will be working with City Council to resolve these issues.”
Airbnb is an online marketplace and hospitality service for travelers looking for short-term lodging in Detroit and elsewhere.
The ordinance states that "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" in Sec. 61-12-46 of the 1984 Detroit City Code. R1 and R2 refer to single-family homes.
City attorney Lawrence Garcia said the law department is in the midst of analyzing the ordinance change at the request of the building department. Garcia said he expects to have a report explaining what it means legally early next week.
“We’ll have to figure out the next steps from there,” he said. “I’m not a policymaker. I think there’s a need for more work to create a policy in this area. There seems to be a lot of confusion regarding this ordinance change.”
Garcia said after the law department completes its analysis, it will talk with city officials to see what steps they want to take.
Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield said it was never the intention of her colleagues or herself to limit Detroiters’ ability to use their homes or property to supplement their income.
“The clarification in the zoning laws was an effort to be responsive and sensitive to homeowners who were concerned about their safety, quality of life and property values as a result of living in very close proximity to single-family homes consistently used as hotels,” she said. “Many of these concerned homeowners are elderly and vulnerable and expressed their concerns with Airbnbs in their neighborhood prior to the vote on the changes.”
Sheffield said she and her colleagues will re-examine the zoning law changes “to ensure there aren't any unintended and inequitable consequences negatively impacting Detroiters’ ability to derive an income from their property.”
Airbnb spokesman Benjamin Breit initially expressed disappointment at the apparent ban but later relief after the city hits the brakes on enforcing it for the time being.
“We applaud the city for doing the right thing and protecting everyday people who are sharing their homes to pay the bills,” Briet said. “Airbnb has partnered with hundreds of cities to develop commonsense home sharing regulations, and we look forward to collaborating with Detroit leaders moving forward.”
Councilman Scott Benson said Detroit isn't banning Airbnbs, and it's not a new ordinance, just a modification to meet "changing times."
"Airbnb wasn't foreseen 10 years ago, but now it's prevalent ... the city is directly responding to residents. People are concerned," he said.
He said prospective renters must receive proper certification from the city before listing on Airbnb.
"It's not driven by hotels. ... There are residents who come home to a neighboring hotel and are concerned about the amount of people coming and going," he said.
Detroit has 430 active Airbnb hosts, who collected a total of $5.2 million in 2017, 50 percent of whom listed only a room in their home.
Detroit had 47,000 people stay in Airbnb in the city in 2017, according to Airbnb.
Breit said a typical Detroit host earns $6,600 a year through home sharing.
Since 2011, Joe Krause and his partner have rented out a spare room in their Corktown home.
"There was a period when it was an important portion of my income, which is probably the case for many hosts," said Krause, 37. "There could have been an easier way to drive out renters instead of this huge and sudden overreach."
The ordinance applies to single-family homes, but Krause received a notice despite his home being an R3, which applies to two-family homes such as duplexes, flats and multiple units.
"We're going to stop being hosts right now while the law stands, but it's very curious," he said.
John Roach, spokesman for Mayor Mike Duggan, said the city will review the effect of the new ordinance.
"The administration will be taking some time to study the new ordinance that the Planning Commission developed and City Council adopted and its impact," Roach said.