It’s becoming easier and easier to rent out your home through websites like Airbnb and VRBO. But short-term vacation rentals are illegal in many areas Up North, including in much of Traverse City.
Now a group is organizing in Traverse City and calling on city leaders to reverse the ban.
Dave Durbin started the group called Traverse City for Airbnb/VRBO. He spent the past two summers hosting visitors at his house using home-sharing websites like Airbnb.
“It was a great way to meet people from not just around the state but around the world,” Durbin says. “I had people from Italy ... from India, and they were very respectful. These are the kind of people that I think we want as tourists in Traverse City.”
Home sharing was also a way for Durbin to make some extra cash. Then last fall, he received a cease and desist letter from the city, telling him to stop renting his house. Durbin was inspired to begin organizing with other homeowners.
Dozens of residents came to the first meeting hosted by the group last week. Durbin says they plan to lobby Traverse City leaders to legalize short-term rentals.
“We want anyone who is going to be responsible that lives in downtown Traverse City in a residential neighborhood,” Durbin says, “to be able to rent their homes out with a short-term rental.”
While short-term rentals are currently banned, the city does allow another kind of home sharing.
There are 17 licensed "tourist homes" in the city right now. Residents can rent out rooms in those homes, as long as they’re present in the house when their guests are there. Tourist homes are limited to one within a thousand-foot radius.
Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers says it’s possible the city could broaden the tourist home policy. For example, he says the thousand-foot radius rule could be made more lenient.
“It can’t be every single house does this,” Carruthers says. “But maybe we can change our policies a little bit to tweak them enough so more people can take advantage of these opportunities.”
Carruthers has reservations about simply overturning the short-term rental ban. He says home sharing can create problems for the city.
Carruthers says home sharing can also frustrate neighbors.
“I get why the neighbors of some of these houses are frustrated because every single weekend there’s a different crowd of people next door,” Carruthers says. “It takes sort of the character of your residential communities away.”
Carruthers says he expects the city planning commission to tackle the short-term vacation rental issue in the coming months.
“I think we need to find that balance,” Carruthers says, "because we are a tourist community but we're also trying to provide affordable real estate."