After the Ann Arbor City Council voted to consider banning dedicated rental houses, Airbnb owners and students who rely on the service expressed disappointment at what they considered an unjust and misinformed decision on the part of the council.
On Monday, Jan. 6, City Council held a vote considering the ban of non-owner occupied short-term rentals in the city — including dedicated Airbnb homes. The vote was 9-2, with the majority of council members in support of the ban. City Council has called for city staff to draft potential regulations for short-term rentals by the end of July.
City Council previously held three public forums considering regulations for short-term rentals in October. These regulations considered banning short-term rentals in certain zones, taxing the properties, requiring registration and inspection, establishing a minimum and maximum length of stay for guests and only allowing properties where the owner remains at home during the stay. However, city officials noted these regulations may not address the concerns typically associated with short-term rentals, primarily nuisance or noise issues reported by neighbors.
The ban would only affect dedicated Airbnb homes and non-owner occupied homes. Currently, there are about 300 homes in Ann Arbor, compared to a total of close to 1,000 Airbnb listings in the city. City officials are concerned the growing number of homes dedicated to short-term rentals will negatively impact affordability and limit the already sparse housing options available in Ann Arbor. Non-owner occupied homes also create competition for businesses among hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts in Ann Arbor, city officials say.
At the Jan. 6 City Council meeting, Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor said he supported the resolution, noting neighborhoods with homes used for short-term rentals often lose their sense of community.
“There’s incomplete data as to safety, there is incomplete data as to the effect on pricing, but I think that the absence of community is unanswerable and for me is of particular importance,” Taylor said.
City Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, opposed the ban but said he thinks most councilmembers voted in favor of the ban in an attempt to express concern about affordable housing in the city and complaints of loud noises and littered property. He told The Daily people also complained these homes often become a nuisance to residents during popular athletic, academic and cultural events that attract visitors to the city.
“I think it was sort of a reaction to that neighborhood complaint,” Hayner said. “Everybody kind of feels like we’re on the hot seat about doing what we can in support of the housing stock in the city. I think it was kind of a result of wanting to show that we’re examining all concerns with affordable housing.”
Hayner said banning Airbnb would be counterintuitive to Ann Arbor’s culture, which promotes tourism and attractions for visitors.
“We kind of have this thing where we’re at odds with ourselves sometimes,” Hayner said. “So we promote the tourism aspects, art and culture, and those that come visit Ann Arbor for the weekend and then, on the other hand, we say not to stay in a non-owner occupied Airbnb. You can’t invite everybody here and not give them a place to live.”
According to Hayner, the potential ban is too rash of a decision and City Council should consider less strict regulations first.
“They picked the most restrictive choice to move forward with looking at legislation,” Hayner said. “And so we’ll see what happens. But I don’t support this notion that they’re inherently bad and they’re inherently causing trouble in our community. Sometimes we have sort of like a knee-jerk response to resident concerns, and it’s not like these concerns aren’t valid — it’s that we have to put these concerns in perspective. In this case, I’m not so sure we did.”
Carol Skala, an Airbnb host and Ann Arbor resident, echoed Hayner’s belief that an outright ban is too severe of a response to concerns about short-term rentals. She said she feels there are other solutions that have not been explored.
“The other thing that’s troubling here from my perspective is that we came to those meetings asking for fairness and we felt like we were heard (at) the meetings (where) they took the votes,” Skala said. “We have asked for nuisance enforcement on the problem homes, so we put those homes out of business. We’ve asked for a cap on short-term rentals … so that would be a solution that would satisfy both sides going forward. And basically, Council thumbed their nose at us and said no.”
Katie Dorka, an Airbnb host and Ann Arbor resident, said Airbnb provides an important service to members of the community.
“I think Airbnb is used to provide an opportunity for tourists to come here and spend money in the city so essentially it’s a good thing,” Dorka said. “By and large most of the Airbnbs in Ann Arbor are hosted by local residents of the city — they’re not investment properties from out-of-state investors. They’re people that live here and contribute to the community.”
Both Dorka and Skala are hosts of non-owner occupied homes and would have to sell or convert their properties to long-term rentals if the ban is passed in July.
“I think Council is miseducated in a lot of ways,” Dorka said. “… I don’t think they don’t understand how the system works, the fact that we rigorously review renters that come to our homes — we don’t just accept anybody.”
Dorka said Airbnbs serve as a safer option for patients that frequently visit the city for medical concerns.
“We also serve families coming for long-term medical treatment at the health system,” Dorka said. “I’ve got a family coming in next week, their father is going to be five weeks into getting a stem cell transplant. They cannot afford to stay in a hotel. They don’t want to stay in a hotel because they have family members coming back and forth over the course of weeks, so I gave them a discount rate because of their circumstances. There’s no hotel in the city of Ann Arbor that can provide that service — and we are a world-renowned medical institution.”
Dorka said the possible ban would also impact parents of University of Michigan students, who make up a substantial portion of her guests.
“I would say by and large the number one percentage of our guests are Michigan parents,” Dorka said. “I have a Michigan family here at least once a week visiting their kids. It’s going to impact the University, and I know people think not in large ways but it is — parents rely on us.”
Airbnb spokesman Samuel Randall said in an email to The Daily the city should reconsider a potential ban on short-term rentals like Airbnb. He said short-term rentals provide housing to thousands of guest visitors and economic benefits for the city.
“The city should consider the many benefits home sharing brings to Ann Arbor by enabling vast growth in tourism and facilitating affordable travel for large events such as graduation and home-game weekends,” Randall said. “Home sharing is also an important economic driver and opportunity for local hosts. We look forward to continuing to work with the City Council on fair and reasonable regulations.”
LSA sophomore Hanna Smith has stayed with family in Airbnbs previously and said she prefers them over hotels for their closer proximity to campus and cheaper price.
“Usually hotels will fill up really quickly, especially during move-in and orientation, and they’re also usually really upcharged,” Smith said. “It’s just nice to sort of be closer to campus in an Airbnb. I’ve definitely noticed Airbnbs to have, honestly, more of a sense of community because you’re talking with the host and it’s not like a hotel where you’re any other visitor.”