As our state gears up for another beautiful summer season along its many coastlines and inland lakes, tensions will once again rise with the temperatures over how to address the rapidly growing number of short-term housing rentals.

While reasonable people have disagreed over the appropriate balance of rights at stake between investors and homeowners on one side and negatively impacted neighbors and municipalities on the other, I would offer that one prevailing theme should unite everyone — safety.

The unavoidable fact is that the exponential growth in short-term rentals is being driven by investors who own multiple properties and operate them, in effect, like a hotel. For instance, more than 80% of Airbnb stays now occur at “whole unit” locations where there is no owner present.

Despite operating like hotels, short-term rentals are not held to the standards of hotels. Not even close. Whether it is strict fire suppression standards, accessibility issues for disabled guests or a litany of other general health standards, short-term rentals subject their guest to risks that hotels do not.

Further, short-term rentals are not required to adhere to all local, state and federal taxes and don’t contribute to the tourism community that is driving the consumer demand for such reservations in the first place. As they rise in prominence and importance in Michigan’s economy, it is time for them to play by the same rules as everyone else.

Thankfully, thoughtful legislation has been introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives that will deliver the kind of balance and parity that is needed on this issue. Rep. Jim Lilly, R-Park Township, deserves a lot of credit for his leadership on a challenging issue.

Through the introduction of House Bill 4554 and its accompanying bills, Lilly recognizes that short-term rentals are an important fixture in Michigan’s tourism-driven economy, and as such seeks to prevent their outright ban by local governments.

But he also recognizes the importance of maintaining the integrity and unique culture of our many neighborhoods, and as such empowers local governments to regulate short-term rentals in a manner appropriate for that community. And finally, Lilly justly holds short-term rentals to the same standards as their hotel counterparts.

The hospitality industry, like so many others, is changing rapidly amid a generation of technological disruption. As the lines between hotels and short-term rentals blur, it is increasingly important that we enact a fair and responsive regulatory structure that allows our tourism sector to thrive while ensuring the safety of our communities and guests alike. House Bill 4554 masterfully accomplishes that delicate balancing act.

Justin Winslow is president & CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association.

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