Our editorial: Rental regs trample property rights

The Detroit News

The ban on some Detroit Airbnb rentals that the City Council quietly enacted on residents was an overreach. It’s right the city has said it won’t enforce the ban until its legality can be reviewed.

Detroit residents have temporarily rented out their properties — whether through Airbnb or not — for decades to help supplement income. There is no justifiable reason for the city to ban them from doing so.

Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield said the zoning laws were a response to homeowners concerned about safety and property values living among homes “used as hotels.”

Yes, short-term renters can be louder or cause more disturbances than owner-occupiers in their own homes. But there are other city codes to deal with noise and disturbance that don’t amount to a massive violation of property rights.

Regulations can be made to ensure non-rental properties are safe, but the city shouldn’t tell homeowners who they can or can’t have in their homes. Detroiters who own their residences have the right to rent them out if they want to.

Additionally, the council’s zoning regulations are discriminatory.

The ordinance states that homes within the R1 and R2 districts — single- and double-family homes — are the only ones subject to the ban (although residents in R3 districts also received warnings, just to add to the overall confusion).

Those districts are Detroit’s neighborhoods where residents are often lower-income or elderly. More well-to-do areas — apartments, condos and other shared dwellings with younger, professional residents — closer to downtown and Midtown were apparently exempted from the ban.

The council claims it held open hearings last fall, when it passed the zoning regulation with the assistance of the Planning Commission. But residents in the affected areas said they were surprised to receive cease and desist notices.

According to Airbnb, Detroit has 430 active hosts, who collected a total of $5.2 million in 2017.

Airbnb rentals brought 47,000 people to Detroit last year as well.

The Duggan administration took the correct step in immediately pausing the ban. As it’s under review, the city must clarify its intent and also make sure the wording is legally enforceable.

The Buildings, Safety Engineering & Environmental Department for the City of Detroit, in a statement Friday, said the ordinance seemed to even ban friends and relatives from staying in homes of those they know if paying rent.

That is absurd, and it’s on the City Council that it carelessly drafted an ordinance that is clearly illegal by any understanding of the law.

As these issues get sorted out, the City Council, the building department and the mayor’s office must be transparent and work with residents to craft policies that maintain property rights and the ability of residents to supplement their incomes.