Editor’s Note: This letter comes to us from Peninsula Township resident Michelle Steffen, who has something to say about short-term rentals on the Old Mission Peninsula. The Township will be scheduling a public hearing on the issue, likely sometime in October. We’ll keep you posted on the date, time and location. -jb
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Peninsula Township Resident Michelle Steffen writes:
Our neighbors have been renting their home on Airbnb. They rent five rooms by the room. That means on any given day, as many as five carloads arrive at all hours at our neighbor’s house. The guests arrive ready for a vacation.
The neighbor’s activities violate two separate Peninsula Township ordinances. They’re operating an unlicensed bed and breakfast. They’re also operating an unlawful short-term rental.
This summer we’ve had to call the police on defiant trespassers. I’ve been sworn at by an angry traveler as I sat in my house with my 12-year-old daughter. Travelers come and go all hours of the day and night. I have to pick up their trash and alcohol containers. Wine tour buses occasionally barrel down the driveway to pick up a bus full of revelers. (I wouldn’t mind that last one so much if they only invited me to get on the bus.)
It’s like living next to a Walmart. Actually, it’s worse, because our actual neighbors are seldom there. That makes me the de facto security guard for my family.
Last weekend, a realtor came to show the neighbor’s property to a prospective buyer. We overheard the conversation in the driveway. The realtor explained to the prospective buyers that Township ordinances prevent Airbnb rentals, but that there are too many Airbnb rentals in operation in the Township already for officials to ever effectively police. The realtor encouraged the buyers to purchase the property in order to continue to use it as an illegal short-term rental.The realtor even implied that she could help them manage the illegal operation.
If we allow Peninsula Township to fall to short-term rentals, we wouldn’t be able to sell our property because of the nuisance next door. Our only options would be to convert the property to our own short-term rental and find another place to live, or sell our property to an institutional investor who plans to do the same thing. Peninsula Township would quickly resemble Myrtle Beach or Acme, with hotels disguised as single-family homes dotting the shorelines.
The Township could address short-term rentals by removing the 15-day grace period, where an individual can continue to violate a zoning ordinance without penalty until 15 days after they’ve received a notice of violation from the Township. The Township could also send a cease and desist letter immediately after receiving a complaint. They could write daily tickets to offenders and amend the current statute to allow escalating fines. The Township could pursue court actions for enforceable injunctions against determined lawbreakers. Finally, the Township website could include clear instructions for making formal complaints about short-term rentals.
New York City recently passed a law that appears to be well written to effectively police short-term rentals. Peninsula Township would be wise to adopt something similar.
Although some suggest that the Township could effectively regulate short-term rentals, any attempt to impose limitations on the number of nights or the number of rooms available to rent would create an enforcement nightmare. Those who don’t care to follow the law now aren’t going to be any more inclined to follow a law that allows some but not all of what they want.
Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms have made it easier to market short-term rentals. However, that doesn’t make the behavior any more legal or desirable. There are all kinds of businesses that people might like to run out of their homes. Short term rentals are just one more way to bring commercial behavior into a place where it doesn’t belong.
It’s likely that you can’t fully appreciate the nuisances, liabilities and dangers until a short-term rental takes over your neighborhood. Let’s not all have to learn the hard way.
– Michelle Steffen
A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers like the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and magazines like Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So of course, I started my own newspaper. Because the Gazette is mainly reader-supported, I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks my way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the Old Mission Peninsula. Check out the donation page here. Thank you so much for your support. -jb