Acme Township to reconsider ban on short-term rentals

Jan 16, 2017

A search for short-term vacation rentals on the website VRBO yields results in Acme Township.
Credit VRBO

For decades, short-term vacation rentals in Acme Township have operated largely under the radar, but with a recent surge in the number of complaints, the issue has become more contentious.

Chrystal Yarlott is in her third year of operating a short-term vacation rental. She’s earned “Super Host” status on Airbnb, consistently receiving five-star reviews. The idea of hosting guests all started after her mother’s health deteriorated.

“She had to go into assisted living and it was just sitting here doing nothing,” says Yarlott. “I had a job at Evergreen Market and the man who owns it said there’s a thing called Airbnb, and I had never heard of it. So, I thought, well, I could try it.”

Yarlott is proud of the environment she’s created for visitors. They enjoy a small room with a comfortable bed, and Yarlott’s three rescue dogs, Dutch, Jack and Reesie.

Visitors who stay in Chrystal Yarlott's home are greeted by her three dogs - Dutch, Jack and Reesie.
Credit Crystal Yarlott

“I think that’s one of the reasons people like AirBnb because it does feel more like home to them, like they’re going to their aunt and uncle’s house. It’s just more cozy than going to a hotel,” says Yarlott.

Yarlott says the money she makes from renting helps her afford her home. She likes to see people create their own income rather than turning to food stamps or welfare.

“This is a small business,” she says. “I would think it would be something to encourage that someone like me is taking the initiative to welcome people into the area to provide them with some guidance and recommendations and a comfortable place so that they get a good experience when they come to Traverse City.”

A 'festive atmosphere'

Acme Township is trying to figure out what to do about short-term rentals.

Shawn Winter is zoning administrator for the township. He says he’s received more complaints about short-term rentals over the last year.

“We saw a proliferation of complaints: people stopping in at Township Hall, calling, sending emails, coming to planning commission meetings, township boards, to express the situations they were having with short term rentals in their neighborhood,” says Winter.

"We have no idea who our neighbors are going to be on a week to week basis. It's almost like a bag of tricks, you just don't know what you're going to get." - Pat Buck

Right now, short-term rentals are illegal in Acme Township. The township attorney says zoning changes could help the township control rentals more closely, and be more responsive to specific complaints. In the meantime, violation notices have been sent to operators of illegal rentals.

Pat Buck is one of those disgruntled neighbors who has complained. Buck feels short-term rentals introduce a “lack of security” to the neighborhood, and he wants them banned.

“We have no idea who our neighbors are going to be on a week to week basis,” says Buck. “We have no background on these neighbors, unlike a family that’s been residing there for some time; It’s almost like a bag of tricks, you just don’t know what you’re going to get.”

Buck says leftover trash and multiple cars in driveways are degrading the look of the neighborhood. He says if something goes wrong with renters, enforcement is in the hands of neighbors.

“When people are on vacation, it’s a festive atmosphere, and I’m the same way when I’m on vacation, but I expect my attitude and festivities to take place a commercially zoned area, not a single family residential area,” says Buck.

A chance for the public to weigh in

John Martin lives out of state. For the last 10 years, he’s been renting out a second home on the beach at Deepwater Point. He feels those opposed to short term rentals are in the minority.

“You’re always going to have problems, but to the extent of not allowing it, I think it keeps the township from revenue they could have,” says Martin. “It goes back to one bad apple shouldn’t ruin it for a bucket of good ones.”

Martin says it’s all about respect. If there’s a problem, he prefers talking face to face.

“The point is whether you’re an owner occupied, long term renter or short term renter, we’re all human so we all have some issue at some point in time so respecting each other generally takes care of the problem,” says Martin.

Nearby townships have taken different approaches. In Garfield Township, short-term rentals are banned outright. But in Long Lake and Green Lake Townships, they’re legal.

Winter says Acme Township has decided to turn to the community before it changes any laws.

“It’s definitely something that needs to be addressed,” says Winter. “The first step in that process is going to be getting public input from our property owners and our residents.

The township will hold a public forum on the subject on Thursday night.