In a reverse move, the City of Detroit on Friday said it won’t immediately enforce a controversial ban that went into effect earlier this week prohibiting Airbnb and other short-term rentals from operating in some residential areas.
Instead, the city has asked its law department to review the new zoning ordinance amendment, which impacts properties zoned R1 and R2.
Neighborhoods with single-family homes are typically zoned as R1 districts, according to the city’s zoning ordinance. The districts are typically low-density areas with single-family detached dwellings.
R2 districts also contain single-family dwellings, but they also have two-family dwellings. The ordinance in its current form impacts much of the city.
“Until the law department review is complete, BSEED will not be ticketing homeowners for renting out rooms in their own residence, whether through Airbnb or otherwise,” David Bell, director of the Buildings, Safety Engineering & Environmental Department, said in a statement Friday. “BSEED and the administration will be working with City Council to resolve these issues.”
The amendment states: “Use of a dwelling to accommodate paid overnight guests is prohibited as a home occupation; notwithstanding this regulation, public accommodations, including bed and breakfast inns outside the R1 and R2 districts, are permitted as provided in Sec. 61-12-46 of this Code.”
The ban sparked confusion among some homeowners who said they rent out rooms in their home through Airbnb. According to data provided by Airbnb, there are at least 430 active hosts in Detroit, with 50% offering an extra or unused room to guests.
Bell said he doesn’t believe the amendment change was meant to prohibit homeowners from renting out rooms.
“Detroit homeowners have been able to rent out a room in their homes for more than 100 years and we don’t believe the new ordinance was intended to take away that right,” Bell said. “The ordinance as written appears to ban all homeowners from having even their own friends and relatives stay at their homes if that friend or relative is paying them rent. The public was never told that was intended. I have asked the law department to review this question and give BSEED guidance.”
Airbnb said in a statement to the Free Press Thursday that it was “very disappointed” by the ban.
“Airbnb has served as an economic engine for middle-class Detroiters, many of whom rely on the supplemental income to stay in their homes,” the company said. “We hope that the city listens to our host community and permits home sharing in these residential zones.”
The company said its hosts had 47,000 guests in 2017 and earned $5.2 million in income last year. On average, hosts earn $6,600 annually, Airbnb said.
Some residents, including Corktown resident Joseph Krause, who is an active Airbnb host, said Thursday the ban would significantly impact them. Krause and other hosts said they rely on the rentals to supplement their income
In a joint statement released Friday, the city council said it’s working to amend the language in the provision “where necessary.” The council said the ordinance was a result of a joint effort between the body, the planning commission, law department and BSEED.
“We listened to residents who were concerned about the integrity of their neighborhood, and it becoming a de facto, high traffic ‘hotel district,'” the statement said. “We also understand the need for, and history of, Detroit homeowners who rent out rooms in their primary residence for supplemental income. We believe these two interests can and will be met and resolved for the good of Detroiters.”
Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield said in a statement that the amendment was “an effort to be responsive and sensitive to homeowners who were concerned about their safety, quality of life and property values as a result of living in very close proximity to single-family homes consistently used as hotels.”
“Many of these concerned homeowners are elderly and vulnerable and expressed their concerns with Airbnb’s in their neighborhood prior to the vote on the changes,” Sheffield said. “There was never any intention on behalf of my colleagues or myself to limit Detroiters’ ability to use their homes or property to supplement their income.”
Sheffield said council has been assured by BSEED that that there will be no “crackdown” on homeowners.
“With that said, my colleagues and I will be re-examining the zoning law changes to ensure there aren’t any unintended and inequitable consequences negatively impacting Detroiters’ ability to derive an income from their property,” Sheffield said.
Councilman Scott Benson said earlier he voted in favor of the amendment when it came before council last November after hearing from some residents who raised concerns about living next to homes operating as short-term rentals in areas zoned as R1 or R2.
“This provision is a direct response to voices of residents and this is addressing their concerns,” Benson said.
He said the amendment, however, was meant only to prevent property owners from renting out owner-occupied units as an Airbnb.
“You can continue to rent out rental properties as Airbnbs because that’s what it’s for when it’s properly registered and inspected by the city of Detroit,” Benson said. “…This is a protection and we’re preserving the neighborhoods … Detroit is not going after Airbnb.”
He said said he was “absolutely aware” of the provision and that since it was a text amendment, state law mandated that public hearings be held and notices given. Benson said at least two hearings were held, one before the planning commission and the other before council.
“The city of Detroit has not banned Airbnb in residential districts and we are very cognizant of residents being able to rent out properties to supplement income.”
Sanya Weston, owner of the Detroit-based Your Premier Travel Services, said she’s concerned about the impact the ban could have on the local and growing Detroit travel industry. Weston said initially the industry was hesitant to offer Airbnb as an option to clients, but now it’s a frequent request.
“Airbnb has impacted us in a real way by coming in and offering other alternatives for our clients,” Weston said, adding that it allows her team to create better travel experiences for clients. “(If the ban is allowed) we would of course (revert) back to depending on hotels and our normal accommodation practice. … But I can see some people deterring their travels from Detroit because of it.”
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press.