Short-term rentals growth brings issues

THE AGE OF THE Internet is creating all kinds of new challenges for local communities and governments.

The city of Plymouth is starting to deal with just one of those – how to handle short-term rentals in private residences by homeowners.

In a little over a year, the city has had to deal with three such requests and each time it has caused some fumbling, uncertainty, concerns and different questions.

The best-known of the websites offering this service is airbandb.com, but there are several others taking advantage of this newest trend in places to stay on vacation, business trips or visits.

In essence, a person with extra space in their home – or a home they don’t live in year-round – offer lodging on the websites for people looking for an alternative to hotels, motels, resorts or other traditional guest lodging. The ubiquity and reach of the Internet makes its an easy and attractive option for many.

However, it leaves communities scrambling to decide how to deal with this phenomenon – not unlike the issues arising around Internet ride-share services like Uber and Lyft and their impact on taxi services, public transportation and the like.

No one would argue with the right of individual property owners to offer a little hospitality and make some money from it at the same time.

On the other hand, some argue that it takes business away from hotels, motels, resorts and the like which provide needed jobs and boost the local economy.

It’s a conundrum that is vexing many larger cities and tourists areas – like San Francisco, Chicago, Austin, Nashville, Louisville and many more – where such short-term rentals are wildly popular and widespread.

In some cases, it has cut into available housing stock for local residents, has created problems for neighbors and neighborhoods, and led to abuse and violations of local zoning codes.

But cities that have tried to regulate short-term rentals have found it to be, in many cases, a real struggle. It demands oversight and permitting, which requires manpower to monitor and enforce the rules – a costly proposition.

It seems unlikely that will ever be the case in Plymouth, where the numbers of such short-term rentals will never reach the thousands or tens of thousands that are the case in larger cities.

But it still raises issues of impact and regulation, even here.

The city does have a number of rules already in place that should ensure that short-term rental locations are good neighbors, covering such issues as parking, noise and the like.

Other concerns as yet unseen may still arise from these short-term rentals, but when and if they do, city officials should be ready to address them as needed.

The fact that the short-term rental business is coming to Plymouth is another sign that the tourism industry is strong and growing here, as that is what is primarily feeding the growth.

“I would anticipate we may become more accustomed to this and see more of this in our community. I think this is going to become more and more prevalent,” Building Inspector Pete Scheuerman told the City Council when they considered the latest example. “We have a wonderful community that serves the surrounding communities very well for events like the PGA, Road America, EAA and the like.”

Short-term rentals require that proprietors and their visitors be good neighbors – and the city should only have to be concerned and step in when that doesn’t happen, which hopefully will be never.


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