Rochester eyes restrictions for short-term rentals

‘The majority of the property owners do not live in the city of Rochester. They live as far away as Puerto Rico’

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published April 23, 2024

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ROCHESTER — Over the past few years, Rochester has seen an increase in rental properties, leaving city officials to tackle regulating them.

Rochester City Manager Nik Banda said there are currently 580 rental properties in the city. While the majority are long-term rentals of six months or more, he said there has been a recent uptick in complaints about short-term rentals — like those offered through Airbnb and Vrbo — in residential areas.

The short-term rental industry has recently grown in Michigan and across the country.

“When it found its way to Rochester, everybody was a little surprised, but not really,” Banda said. “We became a destination spot that was attractive to people to come for shorter terms.”

Mayor Stuart Bikson said the city’s current rental ordinance was crafted during the 2008 recession, when short-term rentals weren’t as readily available.

“We had rental properties that were not being taken care of and we didn’t know who owned them, so we did it to try to get people to do that. We really didn’t contemplate the Airbnb thing at all. To me, this was not set up for that,” he said.

Properties being used for short-term rentals are currently treated like any other rental property and are subject to the regulations in the city’s rental property ordinance, according to City Attorney Jeffrey Kragt. All rental property owners in the city, he said, must register the property, conduct self-inspections at each change-over of the tenant and adhere to a number of other restrictions.

Still, Rochester Fire Chief John Cieslik said it’s hard to know exactly how many rental properties are in the city.

“The 580 rental properties that we are aware of are kind of like an Easter egg hunt. We find them every month — additional rental properties,” Cieslik said. “In fact, we just found 20 more rental properties in the last month that we have attempted three times to follow the process and register, and we just wrote 20 tickets of violations for those properties. The majority of the property owners do not live in the city of Rochester. They live as far away as Puerto Rico.”

About 80% of the city’s blight cases, he added, are from rental properties.

“We spend an exorbitant amount of time with those property owners to try to keep them maintained,” he said.

The city, Kragt said, previously opted to not address short-term rentals in a separate ordinance due to periodic attempts by state legislators to have a statewide set of regulations, which he said seems to have failed thus far.

“We’ve been waiting patiently for the state to handle it, unfortunately … but because of some incidents we’ve had lately, we thought we’ll just pass our own ordinance,” Banda added.

Rochester resident Leilani Ware, who lives on Lysander Street, appeared before council March 25 to explain her concerns with living next to a short-term rental. In October of last year, she said, the yard became a “weed center,” with vegetation overgrowth taller than her 4-foot 11-inch frame.

“The yard is a mess, and I don’t know if there are rodents or if somebody is living in it, and it’s an Airbnb,” she said. “I want to live in the beautiful, quiet neighborhood that I moved into 14 years ago. … I am embarrassed.”

Ware said there is turnover at the rental nearly every day. She watched from her window as police cars from Rochester and Shelby Township apprehend people at the rental property March 15.

“I wish you could be in my kitchen every single day and in my living room every single night when the cars turn over and the people come in and how unsettling and upsetting and unnerving it is,” she said. “The neighborhood has become so loud and insecure. … It doesn’t feel comfortable.”

Alexander Russell, who lives nearby, agreed.

“Safety and security is the main concern I have living in the neighborhood. The blight and the diminishing house value is, obviously, not a good thing … but safety and security needs to be the focus of this,” he said.

Rochester Police Chief George Rouhib said Rochester police assisted Shelby Township police in handling the incident, adding that he could not disclose any information as it was not the city’s case.

The City Council agreed March 25 to have the Planning Commission discuss short-term rentals — those 27 days or fewer — specifically, as they pertain to the city’s zoning districts.

“I don’t want it in my neighborhood. I assume nobody else wants it in their neighborhood, and I think we should move this along to the Planning Commission quickly,” Bikson said during the meeting.

Under a potential draft ordinance, short-term rentals would not be allowed in certain zoning districts — including the one and two family residential districts, R1, R2, R3, R4, R5 and RT — prompting the need for a zoning ordinance amendment. They would only be allowed in multiple family residential districts, RM1 and RM2; the central business district, CBD; general business district, B1; office limited district, O1; and the restricted office district, O2.

City Councilman Christian Hauser said he feels short-term rentals are only suitable in the central business district, as well as the B1, O1, and O2 districts.

“That’s something I think I could get behind and be supportive of. It puts them in a designated area. It’s where commerce is being done currently, and it takes them out of the residential areas,” he explained.

Rentals under 27 days are essentially a business, and should be treated as such, according to Councilwoman Marilyn Trent.

“At this point, you’re running a business. You’re more than a rental property. You’re running a business, and you pay your business fees,” said Trent.

Councilwoman Debbie Jones said she has two rental properties in Rochester and one in East Lansing, where she is charged a rental fee and also deals with stricter regulations than in Rochester.

“As a property owner of two rentals here, I would be more than happy to pay an annual rental fee,” she said.

Councilwoman Sara King said she’s hoping for a “really robust process” around registering short-term rentals, including license fees, noise ordinance fees and more.

“It’s taken a lot of time for the police and firemen to be out there dealing with some of the issues that arise, and I also think we should consider limiting the number, potentially both on the long-term rental and the short-term rental — maybe it’s a percentage of our overall housing stock,” she said. “What I don’t want to see is somebody coming in buying up 10-20 houses and having them all become rentals. I think that is continuing to happen across the country, and that is one of the issues with affordable housing.”

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing for the consideration of an ordinance amendment to deal directly with short-term rentals at 7 p.m. Monday, May 6, at the Rochester Municipal Offices, 400 Sixth St. in Rochester.

For more information, contact Planning and Zoning Administrator Jeremy Peckens at (248) 733-3700 or