Debate in St. Joseph over changes to short-term rental rules

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. -- There’s a debate in St. Joseph over the use of short-term rentals, after a new bill introduced in Michigan’s House of Representatives would remove most control from municipalities on its zoning distinctions.

Right now, short-term rental permits are given to homeowners in the city based on zoning and are only available in the Multiple Family and Waterfront districts, a total of 43 rentable properties. 

One example, the stretch of homes along Silver Beach - but just a few hundred feet over, the rules change. 

“South of there you run into the homes between Silver Beach and Lions Beach, there are rentals in that area but we stopped new applications about 14 years ago because of concerns from neighbors,” said Mayor Mike Garey.

But if House Bill 4722 ultimately passes, it would remove that specific zoning power from cities and make homeowners in every part of town able to seek a permit, plus allow them to rent their home on short notice.

“We feel that short-term rentals are a property right and if a house can be rented and there’s income there it obviously makes the property worth more money,” said Alan Jeffries, Association Executive at the Southwestern Michigan Association of Realtors.

The Southwest Michigan Association of Realtors says it’s not only good for the homeowner, but St. Joe’s economy, providing more tourism that could lead to full-time residents.

“They’re a great chance for people to come to an area, rent a house on Lake Michigan and see what the area is like, you just don’t get that feel in a hotel,” said Jeffries.

But the city says that just hasn’t been the trend for other areas and it has to prioritize the concerns of current residents. 

“All of a sudden you have your town consumed more by people who don’t live here year-round, then you don’t have families going to your local schools, you lose that generation of people to move back to your community, plus, it’s a commercial business so you have fewer homes a person can choose from and at a higher cost,” said Mayor Garey.

The bill would still allow municipalities to keep regulating parking, occupancy and noise for rentals.

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