City of Grand Haven pushes back against state short-term rental bills

Ottawa County

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Grand Haven is pushing back against a set of bills moving through the legislature that would remove restrictions on short-term vacation rentals.

Currently, homeowners can only set up an Airbnb, VRBO or weekly rental in certain parts of the city. The city says they put specific zoning laws in place to cut down on the number of disturbances to surrounding neighbors. 

House Bill 4722, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Sarah Lightner, and Senate Bill 446, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Aric Nesbitt, would prevent local governments from outright banning short-term rentals through zoning laws. This means homeowners could set up shop in any neighborhood where they own a home across the state. 

“This bill does not eliminate local oversight, it eliminates local prohibition through zoning and clarifies that rentals, short or long term, are a residential use,” Nesbitt said.

Nesbitt says local governments would still be able to regulate noise, traffic and other factors that may impact people living close to the short-term rentals. He says this is a property rights issue and homeowners should be able to use their property how they want. 

“These short-term rentals are being vilified when you could use the same vilification for long-term rentals or second homes,” Nesbitt added. 

The city of Grand Haven currently has about 300 vacation rentals. The city says most of them are concentrated near the waterfront and downtown area, where zoning allows anyone to use their property as a short-term rental. The city says he number of short-term rentals are restricted to a certain percentage in neighborhoods like Old Town and South Side. 

“If you’re close to the water, you’re going to have people who want to be there,” said Carol Schuitman, who lives right across the street from a short-term rental. “There has never ever been an issue. It’s been quiet. It’s been reasonable. People come, people go, you see a different car.”

A short-term rental home in Grand Haven on June 6, 2021.

In other parts of the city, like the East Side, short-term rentals are not allowed at all. 

“It’s nice for the supplemental income, but we also like to share the city and where to go eat, where to shop and what walks you can do,” said Brett Heppler, who lives in a zone where short-term rentals are not allowed. 

Heppler says two summers ago, he listed his home on Airbnb. 

“We listed the home and it sold out for the entire summer in three days,” Hepler said. “We rented our house for 60 days and then paid the mortgage for two years.”

At the end of the summer, Heppler said the city sent a letter notifying him that the home was not properly zoned for short-term rentals and they would receive a fine if they continued. He says they moved their operation from their home to a renovated bus.

While they weren’t willing to go on camera, at least two homeowners told News 8 crews they agree with the city. One neighbor said the renters near their South Side home are disruptive to the community that lives there. 

Grand Haven city officials say this issue should be handled at the city level. 

“In our quieter residential districts, people didn’t buy there to be in a vacation district. They bought there to live in a residential district,” City Manager Patrick McGinnis said. “So, we just like to balance these things locally and try to make the best decisions we can based on the feedback we get from the people who live here.”

McGinnis says from 2007 to 2016, the number of short-term vacation rentals in the city limits doubled. He says there’s now a process in place to regulate short-term rentals and where they are located. 

McGinnis says there’s also concern that allowing short-term rentals in any area would bring more out-of-town buyers and make it even more difficult for long-term residents to find affordable housing.

“We’re afraid that we’ll begin to lose our traditional residential neighborhoods, which is where the people who work here like to live,” McGinnis said. “There’s already a crisis in available houses in Michigan. We don’t have enough housing to house all of our people, and so we have to find new housing available, and this is taking away from that stock.”

HB 4772 and SB 446 have both made it out of their respective committees. Nesbitt says there’s not a specific timeline for next steps, but they’re hoping sooner rather than later.

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