New Proposed Regulations For Short-Term Rental Homes In Township Under Discussion
A special committee last Wednesday mulled over the third draft of proposed regulations for short-term rental homes in Saugatuck Township.
The issue emerged this past summer when residents at Newport and Harbor roads, Silver Lake Drive and Lorrimar Lane began to communicate their problems to township officials about transient renters who rented residential homes and allegedly caused unwanted noise, traffic congestion and fire and safety hazards.
Short-term rental is defined in the proposal as “any rental unit for a term of less than 28 days.”
The committee—composed of some members of the township board and the planning commission, the zoning administrator, and fire department representatives—said they drew from existing rental regulations from municipalities of similar characteristics; national fire code standards; and the current zoning ordinance to create the language for the proposed ordinance.
The township’s efforts to put forth a new, more restrictive rental ordinance is drawing concern - and some behind-the-scenes discussions by some homeowners who rent their own homes and companies that own homes or handle rentals for the homeowners.
Some individuals who have rented their homes for years say they do so to make money, or take advantage of existing tax breaks, or simply want to share their home with family, friends or others and recover only minimal maintenance costs.
Many of those homeowners say they have never had a problem with renters or neighboring homeowners.
“There is a distinct difference between a single-family home and its change to a transient use (as a rental) because people are unfamiliar with the premise and escape routes,” said Saugatuck Township Fire District Chief Greg Janik, who has been involved with the committee.
The proposed ordinance entails a registration process with a $150 cost. Among the various new proposed rules, it requires all rental-units to have a designated rental agent—owner or otherwise—that lives or has a business place within 45 miles of the rental unit.
Another proposed rule would require applicants for a rental permit to submit a parking site plan showing available off-street parking and provide for adequate access for emergency vehicles. In terms of public parking, occupants would not be allowed to park more than one mile from the rental unit.
In the section of “final registration and permit,” the following proposal is written: “Except as otherwise provided in this section, the maximum occupancy load shall be 2 persons per bedroom, plus two additional persons per finished level with means of emergency egress (e.g. a functional window), up to a total of 12 persons.
“Applicants who wish to request a maximum occupancy load of more than 12 persons or more than 2 persons per bedroom, must do so on the application form.
“The zoning administrator and fire code official may approve such requests upon determining that the proper safety features have been met.”
Area rental businessperson Mark Mikolitis, managing Lakeshore Lodging with a multi-million dollar portfolio of area properties, and Silver Acres Drive resident Tom Nowak were present at the meeting, and they both said they approve of the proposed regulations at this time.
“When it comes time to renew that property (for a yearly rental permit), you have to meet the new code (if approved),” Saugatuck Township Zoning Administrator and Planner Steve Kushion said in response to an inquiry by Mikolitis.
“We are going to be telling people, ‘Okay, you have more than 12 (persons in your rental unit). Okay, there are ways to comply with the new ordinance if, for example, you have a proper fire escape or an extra window,’” Kushion added about those applicants that would be seeking the special request (for more than 12 persons in a rental.)
“(How about) a case of a furnished bedroom with three queen beds. It may be approved, but (you have one bed) that will not be used (two beds three people)?” asked Mikolitis about the cap of two persons per bedroom.
“You need an affidavit that it (the third bed) is not going to be used,” responded Janik.
Janik also spoke about the proposed maximum of 12 total occupants in a rental unit, saying, “I really feel 12 is an exceptional balance. What we are trying to accomplish here is fire safety—12 people is a lot to get out safely during a house fire.”
A check of local fire reports does not show any fires where the Saugatuck Township Fire Department has had to extricate 12 or more people from a rental home.
Janik also conceded there is no specific clause he can point to in the International Fire Code regarding a proposed cap on the number of people who can stay in a rental home.
“It is not specified in the International Fire Code because it is not typical to find single-family dwellings as rental units; we must then turn to local ordinance for regulations,” he said, adding that he consulted on the proposed regulations with other fire officials and his staff.
It is the proposed limit of 12 people per rental unit that has sparked much discussion and concern among some homeowners and home rental companies with larger homes that can easily accommodate more than 12 guests.
Those private discussions - some of which have been shared with The Local Observer - have included the possibility of them either individually, or as a group, hiring a lawyer to challenge the legality of that rule should it be adopted by the township.
As for limiting the number of rental units themselves in any one neighborhood or applying regulations for Airbnb - the online-based service that encourages owners to share extra space with travelers - the committee said that was a conversation beyond the scope of what was presently at hand.
Committee members did say they will consider in future discussions the topic of a rental insurance policy as a possible requirement.
The final draft is not expected to go before the Saugatuck Township Board for final approval until the beginning of next year.