(New Buffalo, MI) - New Buffalo is a popular destination to rent single family homes for vacations or simply getaway for the weekend. However, the large parties thrown at some of the properties have angered neighbors also upset by how many residences have turned into short term rentals.
The process of trying to more effectively address the situation began during an October 12 meeting of the New Buffalo City Council and New Buffalo Planning Commission. “This has got to stop. It’s getting out of hand. We have strangers coming every weekend to stay near us not knowing them,” said resident Gabby Sexton.
Resident Louise Valentin said she didn’t realize the problems she would encounter after her neighbor put in a swimming pool and opened his house to guests during the summer. “What it ended up turning into is essentially a party house and I’m not exaggerating. This is every weekend,” she said.
By the end of the year, the hope is to add teeth to the city’s existing vacation rental ordinance and increase enforcement, said Mayor Lou O’Donnell, IV. “This is a work in progress,” he said.
The task seems challenging because the local economy along the shores of Lake Michigan is built on tourism. Vacation rental owner Heather Grabowski of New Buffalo said she respects and agrees with many of the concerns but too many restrictions could bring financial pain to the community. She said the problems rest more with vacation rental owners from elsewhere not working closely enough with tenants before things get out of hand. “I don’t think you can legislate your way out of a seasonal economy,” she said.
One of the options under consideration is hiring Granicus, a private firm specializing in the enforcement of vacation rental codes for 350 municipalities nationwide, including 12 in Michigan. Kyle Salonga, a sales representative with the company, said Granicus relies on digital technology to more effectively reach property owners or their representatives to immediately address complaints. He said a dedicated hotline working around the clock is also provided to help take complaints and receive pictures along with other evidence of potential violations.
Citizens, after registering complaints, are contacted in less than an hour to find out if an issue has been corrected. “While we’re tracking this information your police department or whoever is enforcing this will be able to see if there was a violation,” Salonga said. The city would pay just under $11,000 a year for the service.
City Manager Dave Richards said there are about 250 short term rental homes in the community of about 2,000 full-time residents. He said the increase has been noticeable and the ordinance adopted just last year proved ineffective in addressing the problems. “We want to get it under control. We want to balance the needs of the full-time residents while understanding that the state allows short term rentals in residential neighborhoods,” Richards said.
Richards said an increase in the current fee paid to the city for registering and inspection of a short term rental is being examined to pay for stricter enforcement. He said establishing a head tax to pay for enforcement is not an option unless there’s a change in state law. Richards said a head tax for short term rentals in Michigan is allowed only in communities with a population of at least 40,000 and counties with more than 600,000 residents.