Occupancy cap proposed for New Buffalo vacation rentals

NEW BUFFALO, Mich. (WNDU) - Summer vacation season is right around the corner, and the tourist town of New Buffalo is preparing.

Proposed short-term rental regulations are designed to make visitors better neighbors.

It recently happened on yet another New Buffalo block. A house on Mayhew flipped from a permanent residence to a short-term rental.

“Summer has not even started, yet we have a 16-person occupancy vacation rental directly across the street,” neighbor John Humphrey said. “If you buy a house in a residential neighborhood, you have a promise that it's going to be a family neighborhood. All the sudden, now it's not. It’s a transient hotel across the street.”

Short-term renting is big business in New Buffalo. Perhaps it won’t be quite as big given proposed regulations that would set a maximum occupancy building by building.

“At this point, without any ordinances, you can throw mattresses on the basement floor in a basement and have 10 people down there with no egress,” New Buffalo City Councilman Mark Kroll said. “No one wants to have 20 people partying all night in the house next door.”

A public hearing on the proposed new rules at City Hall Thursday drew a standing-room-only crowd.

“The reason this has blown up to the issue you see here today is that more and more homes have been converted to large-occupancy, short-term rentals in town,” Humphrey explained.

“You have a lot of homes of different sizes, some can very comfortably accommodate large numbers of people, some can't,” real estate agent and landlord Heather Gradowski added.

The rules, as written, would limit capacity at the lesser of two people per bedroom, plus two more for every finished story, or four people for every off-street parking space provided. The rules also appear to cap any given capacity at 14 people, although an appeals process could increase that to 20.

“I think the city is being very proactive in ensuring the safety of its residents, welcoming guests to the community but making sure we can all live together in harmony. It’s a tricky balance, but I think we can find it,” Gradowski said.

The rules would also require curbside trash pickup on Fridays and Mondays when a unit is being rented and requires that an agent who lives or does business within 45 miles of the property be designated to respond to calls from renters, concerned citizens and city representatives.

One real estate agent told the council that eight out of every 10 homes he sells are second homes.

The ordinance is up for first reading at the council meeting scheduled for Monday.

Some in the crowd Thursday thought the council was moving too quickly and doing so without enough industry input. The mayor expressed a desire to see the new rules take effect before the peak of the summer rental season.

“In our community, people come here to visit, then they rent, and then they buy, and I’m a realtor and I can tell you that’s absolutely true. And we’re seeing a huge trend in people looking to buy here now, enjoy the home part-time, and then eventually live here full-time. That only benefits our community,” Gradowski said.