Millennials travel differently than their parents and grandparents. They’re OK foregoing a hotel room and instead sleeping on a stranger’s couch, or renting a room in a private home, or booking an apartment that someone else has vacated for a few days. The new and booming home-sharing industry has the potential to boost tourism in Michigan — if government regulators stay out of the way.

Home sharing has rapidly expanded, largely due to websites such as Airbnb and HomeAway. And it’s starting to appeal to older tourists and business travelers as well. The hotel industry sees that as a threat, as do some neighbors who are worried about the impact on their home values and the tranquility of their neighborhoods.

Eight major cities nationwide have responded with ordinances either denying or greatly limiting the right of homeowners to rent out their houses and apartments to travelers. They say that as the number of short-term rentals has grown, so have the nuisance complaints.

Legislation recently introduced in Lansing would affirm homeowners’ rights by preventing local governments from banning short-term rentals. Airbnb and similar sites allow homeowners to rent their homes or individual rooms to vacationers. It is a win-win for both parties involved — vacationers get cheaper and often more suitable accommodations and homeowners can earn extra money.

Michigan homeowners have capitalized on this trend, earning in 2016 more than $25.2 million in supplemental income while welcoming nearly 188,000 guests to the state. Detroit has emerged as a leader of the movement, according to Airbnb, becoming one of 12 global launch cities for the website’s new Experiences platform.

But some major tourist destinations have cracked down on home-sharing sites in the past year, with New York City, New Orleans and Santa Monica outright banning them.

“That’s just like the government, though, isn’t it? Whenever there’s an innovation there’s a government regulation trailing close behind,” says Christina Sandefur, executive vice president of the Goldwater Institute, who spoke last week at a home-sharing seminar hosted by Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

These regulations not only infringe on citizens’ property rights but also hurt communities by limiting the opportunity for homeowners to make additional money.

Opponents have argued short term-rentals will destroy the character of neighborhoods and create disturbances for local residents. Most regulations, however, only punish the responsible majority of property owners for the potential wrongs of a few.

State Rep. Jason Sheppard, R-Temperance, is a sponsor of the bill, which he said would prevent the state from outright banning short-term rentals, but would still let local municipalities impose some regulations.

“It’s a personal property rights bill in my opinion,” he says. “People have the right to use their property as they see fit.”

This bill is sensible and would protect property rights as well as neighborhood values.

The Legislature should pass it, and keep the welcome mat out for a new generation of travelers.

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