Jacques: Individual liberty trumps local control
Earlier this month I met my mom in Los Angeles to celebrate Mother’s Day, and one night we stayed in a lovely place high in the Santa Monica Mountains — a neighborhood we got to feel a part of thanks to Airbnb.
Last fall, my husband and I traveled to Iceland and experienced life on windswept horse farms, also thanks to short-term rentals.
This kind of travel is not for everyone — some will always prefer the consistency and reliability of heading to the nearest hotel.
Yet as more travelers seek home sharing when they explore new destinations, it’s creating friction between the homeowners who choose to rent out a room or their whole property and their neighbors. It also reveals the tension between state and local control over how these communities regulate a growing industry.
In 2018, Airbnb alone brought in $78 million in supplemental income to Michigan homeowners and 600,000 guests, with the highest number of visitors to Wayne and Grand Traverse counties.
This issue is once again playing out in the Michigan Legislature. Lawmakers are debating how heavy-handed to be with local governments, as well as property owners.
State Rep. Jason Sheppard, R-Temperance, seems to have struck the right balance with his bill that would prevent local leaders from using zoning to ban short-term rentals altogether — as is happening around the state. Rather, his legislation encourages local regulations on nuisances such as noise, traffic and advertising, as long as the rules are applied consistently to all residences.
“This is a property rights issue,” says Brian Westrin, public policy and legal affairs director for Michigan Realtors. He says it’s an abuse of local control when local governments seek to tell homeowners how to manage their property.
Chance Weldon, an attorney with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, agrees. He was in Michigan this week to speak at a Mackinac Center event on the issue of local control.
When local governments force restrictive zoning rules and regulations on what individuals can do with their own property, Weldon says, these local laws rub against constitutional rights.
“This is local control versus local liberty,” says Weldon. “Cities can also get outside the constitutional box.”
Ordinances that overstep their bounds and trample individual rights are not an example of local control, but of “lawlessness,” says Weldon.
For example, Weldon’s foundation is working with brothers in Canton Township, who got a $500,000 fine for cutting down trees on their own property to make room for a Christmas tree farm.
It’s also an affront to private property rights when local governments seek to micromanage short-term rentals. In Austin, Texas, cities officials there took things so far as to mandate a 10 p.m. bedtime at home-sharing properties — or even the number of people who can be in a backyard at one time. Violators face hefty fines.
Many Michigan communities are also taking things too far in their attempts to limit or eliminate short-term rentals, so it’s a good thing the Legislature is getting involved.
Westrin points to 2017 short-term rental reform in Wisconsin as a model for Michigan, as that law found a balance between the rights of homeowners and their neighbors.
As long as homeowners aren’t using their property to the clear detriment of their neighbors, they should be able to use their homes as they see fit. And there are nuisance provisions that can keep bad actors in check.
“No one should get to vote about how you use your private property,” Weldon says.