TRAVERSE CITY — Dave Durbin figured his days as an Airbnb.com host were over when Traverse City's zoning administrator sent him a cease-and-desist letter in October.
The Traverse City resident instead started a social media page for short-term rental supporters that has gathered 450 "likes" so far, and now he and his allies want to start a movement. More than 60 people crowded into The Parlor's west end Tuesday to hear Durbin outline what he proposes for the future of renting to vacationers in Michigan's second-most popular Airbnb.com destination.
Durbin and others think it's time Traverse City changed its rules on short-term renting, which is currently banned in residential districts except for tourist home owners who must be present when guests are there. But Durbin agreed there will need to be some restrictions on what's fast becoming a hot-button issue in northwest Michigan.
"I love Traverse City, and I don't want to be the guy who's remembered as gathering all these people in The Parlor to bring on its demise because of the 'wild, wild west' of short-term renting," he said.
Tourism is big business in Traverse City, yet full-time residents can't help but feel sidelined every summer as the town floods with visitors, Durbin said. They should be able to participate in the tourism economy, but they must do it respectfully.
Rambunctious guests who party hardy and nettle the neighbors give short-term renting a bad name, Durbin said. He vetted his guests to ensure they wouldn't cause trouble. There's enough demand for places to stay in Traverse City that hosts can pick and choose considerate guests.
Hotel owners would be less likely to oppose short-term rentals if owners had to charge the same bed tax, Durbin said. Michigan already collected $4.3 million in sales tax on Airbnb bookings within Traverse City's two main ZIP codes.
Durbin also suggested limiting rentals for less than 30 days to owner-occupied homes.
But that idea fell flat with Teresa Woods, who owns Visit UpNorth Vacation Rentals. She's suffered blowback from peoples' fears over short-term renting, and said obnoxious guests are less of a problem if there's someone local to call who can rein them in.
"If you can't call anybody, that's when issues fester," she said.
Traverse City sent Onlee Bowden a cease-and-desist letter as well, she said — two, actually. She decided to relist her home anyway after getting the first — she didn't want to be penalized for canceling on an already-booked guest.
Bowden also likes the flexibility she and her husband have as vacation destination hosts compared to a landlords, she said.
"There are a lot of housing issues in our city and I have done the long-term rental for a very long time, and we had some really good experiences and we had some really horrible experiences," she said.
Durbin agreed he wouldn't stand for any loosening of rules that would result in long-term rentals being turned into vacation pads. People rent their homes for all sorts of reasons and they're a part of the community, he added.
Now it's up to others who support short-term rentals to keep pushing for more change, Durbin said. He stressed the need to organize and work with the city to establish new rules that could garner the most support.
Curt Peterson said he was involved in a similar struggle in Peninsula Township. His rental operation got lumped in with another in the township where the guests were causing major headaches. But he stood up for himself at a public meeting, and urged others not to be afraid to identify themselves as short-term rental hosts.
"You got to get out there, you've got to talk about it, you've got to put your comments out, you've got to talk to your commissioners," he said.
Rick Fulmer came out to hear Durbin's presentation, and said he thinks the conversation is a positive one for Traverse City. He knows short-term renting is going on in the city, but has no reason to complain yet.
Fulmer said he plans to stay involved and favors opening up the city's short-term renting rules.
"When I think of all these homeowners saying they're going to be respectful to their neighbors, I think that's a great assurance that we're going to have good renters coming here," he said.
Mayor Jim Carruthers also listened in, and said he expects short-term renting to become the next hot topic for city commissioners to debate. He sees it as a possible threat to affordable rental housing in Traverse City, where 40 percent of housing is for long-term renters.
More short-term renting could also threaten neighborhood character, and further entrench Traverse City's economy in tourism, Carruthers said.
"People want us to grow up and out of tourism and be a full-service, year-round economy, but this right here is more of a tourism-based economy," he said. "But we are a tourist town."