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 Bloomfield Township resident  Carol Furlong and her pup, Franklin, relax in her home, which she  outfitted to cater to Airbnb guests.

Bloomfield Township resident Carol Furlong and her pup, Franklin, relax in her home, which she outfitted to cater to Airbnb guests.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

Bloomfield Township sets limits on Airbnb stays

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published December 20, 2018


BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP — A new ordinance directed at Airbnb rentals in the township is putting a lot of emphasis on the “bnb” part.

That is to say, the short-term rentals ordinance that the Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees passed 6-0 Dec. 10 will, in short, prohibit residents from renting out their home unless the guest stays 30 days or the homeowners remain in the house during the stay — you know, like a bed and breakfast.

Treasurer Brian Kepes was absent from the meeting.

Patti Voelker, the director of planning, building and ordinances for the township, explained that the Planning Commission recommended the board approve the ordinance to prevent residents from turning their homes into unlicensed commercial businesses in the middle of a neighborhood.

“The transient nature of short-term rentals can lead to neighborhood complaints of excessive noise, disorderly conduct, property maintenance concerns, and traffic and parking issues,” Voelker wrote in a memo to the board.

The ordinance addresses rental properties in general — excluding facilities like adult foster care homes and state-regulated establishments, as well as roommate-like living arrangements — and targets rental networks like Airbnb and VRBO, which allow travelers to search for and rent rooms or entire homes around the globe, often for a lot less than a hotel stay. Voelker said special event permits can be issued for renters in cases like the fall 2004 Ryder Cup golf matches at Oakland Hills Country Club.

But some on the Planning Commission argue that travelers could be excessively noisy or irresponsible with the property and surrounding area during their stay, and there aren’t really benefits to the community beyond the owner’s door.

“If (the stay) is under 30 days, it becomes a commercial use, and that bothers me in the neighborhoods,” said Township Clerk Jan Roncelli. “We’re not getting anything. I’m sure they’re not taxing it as a business, but they’re treating it as a business.”

She added that along with missing out on taxes that would normally be collected from a hotel room purchase, owners get to essentially offer their property for rental as often as they like but still enjoy homestead tax credits.

Township resident Carol Furlong has hosted Airbnb guests for some time now, and she told the board during public comments that she is disappointed with the restrictions.

“In an era where people’s 401(k)s aren’t lasting as long as they thought or they’re facing thousands in medical bills like my husband and me, why wouldn’t you want to give these people a way to help themselves (earn money)?” Furlong said.

She added that she rejects the idea that Airbnb renters could pose a criminal threat to neighborhoods, noting that Bloomfield Township police confirmed for her that there have been no complaint calls related to short-term rental guests in the township to date.

The Airbnb website states that the organization performs background checks on hosts and guests to search for criminal convictions at the state and federal levels, as well as the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which monitors lists of suspected terrorists, though customers are advised to proceed with bookings cautiously, as gaps in background checks are possible.

Sgt. Dan Brown, of the Bloomfield Township Police Department, confirmed there have been no noise or criminal complaints in the township, to his knowledge and recollection, related to short-term rental guests. But there have been a few cases of fraud.

“There’s been a couple times where someone shows up at a homeowner’s doorstep and the resident is like, ‘Um, our house isn’t for rent,’” he explained. “Basically, the traveler thought they were paying Airbnb for a place to stay and wherever that money went, it was a scam.”

Furlong said she’s had nothing but positive experiences with her guests.

“We’ve had physicians here, a young couple from Cranbrook back for their reunion with their two young children,” she said. “People who travel with Airbnb don’t travel for a month at a time. That’s not a Bloomfield Township visitor. That’s a Florida visitor. The people coming here to fix an IT problem in Southfield or coming for a wedding nearby aren’t going to stay a month, and you’re basically saying they can’t stay here.”

But that’s not true, Trustee Dani Walsh emphasized just before the ordinance came up for a vote.

“You have the option of 30 days or more,” Walsh said. “And when you’re staying in the house with (an Airbnb guest), it does feel like it’s a bed and breakfast. You feel like you have to be quieter, have to be nicer. There is a difference in how they act. That is an option for someone who needs it.”

Supervisor Leo Savoie agreed, saying the ordinance is fair to both sides of the debate.

“The Planning Commission had a fairly in-depth discussion between the members there,” he said. “We have concerns about private property rights and government intrusion into private property rights. (But) in residential neighborhoods, we don’t want a transient situation.”

Township Attorney Bill Hampton echoed Savoie, explaining that while he and Voelker built the ordinance, they looked at similar rules in other communities in order to strike a balance.

But it would seem balance is in the eye of the beholder.

“What cities could do instead of taking this panicky position on it and chase a problem that doesn’t exist would be to slow down and talk to some people and learn how the community can benefit from it and implement some ordinances then,” Furlong said.

Birmingham has yet to address short-term rentals in its code, according to Planning Director Jana Ecker, but the department has been looking into it and plans to make recommendations soon.

Bloomfield Hills does not have any ordinances concerning short-term rentals either, according to City Manager David Hendrickson.