Chocolay Township approves first reading of controversial rental ordinance

Chocolay Township Board Trustee Mark Maki speaks during public comment at a board meeting on Monday. Maki voted against the first reading of the township’s proposed rental ordinances, which would require any residential property owner who intends to rent out property for one day or longer to register with the township on an annual basis. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

HARVEY — Officials are taking another crack at governing rentals of all types in Chocolay Township.

The first reading of the township’s proposed rental ordinance and a proposed zoning ordinance amendment related to rentals along with a proposed rental property registration form were approved during the Chocolay Township Board meeting on Monday.

Ordinance language is notably devoid of any mention of short-term rentals, instead requiring any property owner who rents a residential dwelling unit for periods of one day or more in return for a fee to register with the township annually.

As a result of approved registration, the property owner would receive a one-year permit, Township Planning Administrator Dale Throenle said.

The regulation would not apply to businesses and organizations, which would be otherwise regulated by state, county or other township ordinances.

Chocolay resident Stephanie Gencheff speaks during public comment at a Chocolay Township Board meeting on Monday. Gencheff said she is “vehemently opposed” to short-term rentals. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

“The folks that would be required to register would be those that have single-family homes. It does not include anyone who has a bed and breakfast already established, mobile home parks or hotels,” Throenle said.

Property owners who wish to rent out their property would be required to provide their own personal and management company information, including email addresses, phone numbers and alternate contact numbers in the event the primary contact is unavailable to respond to calls from police, fire, emergency and other township personnel.

The designated alternate contact person must be located within the township or within 25 miles of township boundaries, the ordinance states.

The proposed language would also require the owner or agent to maintain a current list of the rental occupants, which must be presented to police, fire, emergency or other government personnel upon request, the ordinance states.

The property owner would also be required to provide a copy of a proposed Township Information document that details rules and ordinances to every tenant or renter if the ordinance is approved and enacted in May.

Failure to comply with the ordinance would result in a fine for each violation, with three violations resulting in the revocation of the rental permit for the property for a year.

Board Trustee Mark Maki said he had issues with aspects of the ordinance, one of them being the fine.

“The fine seems to be excessive,” Maki said. “I don’t know how the word is going to get out and I, of course, have verbalized that I really don’t think it’s constitutional.”

He also expressed concern about the lack of a registration fee.

“I have a problem with that no fee. We charge for everything that we have to do something for, and yet we are somehow saying ah, but this one’s free,” Maki said. “I don’t think we ought to do that. I don’t think it’s realistic. We don’t give zoning permits for free to encourage people to do that, because it costs us money to do it. No fee makes no sense.”

Throenle said the registration fee came up during planning commission feedback. He said rental property owners expressed frustration that the fee would require those who “already pay more in traditional property taxes” than residential property owners to pay more.

“The concept behind free registration is that there is no excuse whatsoever,” Throenle said. “If you choose not to register and you get caught, then there is a penalty.”

Chocolay resident Stephanie Gencheff, one of several property owners on Lakewood Lane who collected 187 petition signatures opposing short-term rentals in 2017, said she is vehemently opposed to commercializing residential neighborhoods.

She also made the board aware of a home on Lakewood Lane being advertised online on Air BnB.com and Hometogo.com.

“They are renting out for up to 10 guests in a four-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath house,” Gencheff said. “So how is that protecting our groundwater to have that kind of density even on a short-term basis in that home? The septic was approved in 1980, so no one is protecting our well water. This is an example of what we told you we didn’t want to occur in our residential neighborhood. We want to preserve our residential rural nature and not be commercial.”

The second reading of the rental ordinance, associated zoning ordinance amendments, the rental property registration form and the township information document will be held at the board’s regular meeting in May.