Township officials estimate that there are anywhere from a dozen to 30 rental properties operating without government oversight, including some that have received complaints from neighbors. One rental in a residential neighborhood is listed with an occupancy of 30, officials said.
The conversation was spurred by interest from the owners of the American Dunes Golf Club in creating short-term rentals that would be available during golf tournaments. Golfing legend Jack Nicklaus is redesigning the course, currently under renovation, at the former Grand Haven Golf Club.
The state House is negotiating several bills that would prohibit local municipalities in Michigan from regulating rental properties. Realtor organizations have supported the legislation, viewing rentals as a property rights issue.
The City of Grand Haven has restricted rentals in some districts/ Spring Lake Township does not allow rentals over 14 days in two of its districts, and allows short term rentals in two districts with a township-issued license.
Grand Haven Township Manager Bill Cargo said using residential properties for commercial uses “steps over the line, (but) that line has been very gray.” The issue is fairly new, he said, with the advent of online rental services like Airbnb.
Township Supervisor Mark Reenders said he is in favor of subjecting existing rentals to fire code inspections. Currently, rentals in the township are not regulated for enforcements such as egress windows in bedrooms, secure locks, smoke detectors and occupancy.
Cargo said regulations would increase administrative oversight and add costs for the township. The township’s fire department currently has three certified fire inspectors, he said.
Trustee Ron Redick said a seven-day minimum rental period should be enforced for short-term rentals. A rental becomes “long term” at 30 days. A rental period under 14 days is not taxed.
Redick also noted that rentals can provide needed income for families who otherwise couldn’t afford to live in Grand Haven Township. He said rentals should be allowed along the bayous and Lake Michigan where they already exist, and regulation should be permitted under the township’s current Zoning Ordinance.
“Controversy or not, I think it’s line drawing that’s going to have to be done,” Redick said.
Trustee Cal Meeusen urged caution as the board considers regulations. He said the issue could become a “mountain made out of a mole hill.”
“People don’t want their government interfering in their lives any more than they already do,” Meeusen said. “You’re going to meet some real resistance. I think you’re trying to regulate people’s lives a little too much.”
Local Chamber of Commerce President Joy Gaasch said the concern for the City of Grand Haven was the potential for hotels to flip residential neighborhoods into rentals. She said legislation pending in the state House are negotiating tools, but an eventual law could result in the hand-tying of local units.
“This is an industry that’s changing, and it’s evolving faster,” Gaasch said. “The concern we have is maintaining the integrity of neighborhoods. We aren’t opposed to short-term rentals.”
Cargo said the township will bring various policies before the board over the next few months.
Township Clerk Laurie Larsen said the issue is urgent and should be acted on immediately.