Ferrysburg mulling short-term rental regulations

Marie Havenga • Dec 7, 2017 at 10:00 AM

Ferrysburg City Council got its first taste this week of a year-long Planning Commission project — a new short-term rental ordinance.

Roger Jonas, chairman of the city’s Planning Commission, presented the proposed legislation at Monday night's council meeting.

If the council concurs with the commission’s recommendation to approve the new ordinance, the regulations would require stays of no less than seven days and regulate the number of occupants allowed, depending on the number of bedrooms and bedroom size. Each property owner would have to have a local agent listed for contact in case of problems. Owners would be required to register their rental homes by Jan. 2 of each year.

The registration fee would double from $25 to $50. Fines would also increase for a first offense, from $50 to $100.

Campfires would be limited to closed containers and at least 20 feet away from dune grass. RVs and camping guests would not be allowed in rental driveways or yards.

Jonas stressed that the Planning Commission's goal is not to punish those landlords who are doing everything right but to prevent problems for neighbors of rental homes.

“People are very passionate on both sides of the issue,” he said.

Jonas said the commission could have easily copied ordinances from other municipalities, but chose instead to draft a new ordinance that is unique to Ferrysburg.

The city has had rental permits in place since 1994 and inspections since 2001. It currently has 237 registered rentals.

“The current ordinance does not differentiate between short-term and long-term rentals,” Jonas said.

Jonas said the new ordinance would discourage people from renting a home for something like a weekend party.

Currently, there is no minimum number of days homeowners can rent to guests. Jonas said he's not naive enough to think that some people would reserve a rental for the required minimum week, then only stay for a couple of days.

“But we want to discourage them from coming on a weekend and having a party,” he said.

City Councilman Richard Carlson said he wonders how much the minimum stay requirement would hurt property owners. When asked, Jonas was unable to come up with a percentage of people who rent their homes for less than seven days.

“I'm concerned about personal property rights,” Carlson said.

Carlson said that when he and his family rent through websites like Airbnb, they like to rent three days in one place and four or so in another.

“I appreciate all the hard work and time and effort (the Planning Commission) put into it,” Carlson said. “By and large, I'm in agreement with it, but I'm a big fan of personal property rights. I don't know if it's appropriate for a government to be telling people what they can and can't do with their property. I'm also sensitive to the neighbors.”

Carlson said he believes the city's current ordinances are strong enough.

“We already have enough ordinance on the books,” he said. “The Planning Commission has given a lot of thought to this and they feel we should tighten up a few things. I'm not in agreement with a couple of things, but I'm not about to throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Carlson agrees with Jonas that property owners need to do their due diligence before renting.

Jonas said owners should make sure all renters know the local rules. As an example, he presented an informational packet that the City of Grand Haven provides to renters.

“The landlord has to convey to the tenant what the rules are,” Jonas said. “The owners get fined. The tenants don't.”

Gene McQuaid, who said his family has had past problems with neighboring short-term tenants, said he's pleased with the proposed ordinance, even though he was originally in favor of a full short-term rental ban.

“I believe this is a compromise,” he said.

Councilman Mike DeWitt said he also likes the proposed ordinance.

“It strikes a good balance,” he said. “It's not too restrictive, but it's restrictive enough that we have some teeth.”

Mayor Rebecca Hopp agreed.

“The Planning Commission worked extensively and listened to both sides to come up with a collaborative ordinance,” she said. “I'm impressed with it.”

City Council is expected to vote on the proposed ordinance as early as its Dec. 18 meeting.

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