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Detroit quietly bans many Airbnb rentals, law department says it's under review


Detroit may have quietly banned many Airbnb rentals with a new zoning law that went into effect this week. The zoning change as written bans Airbnb room rentals in owner-occupied single-family and duplex homes.

The company says that's about 50% of Detroit's total Airbnb business.

Some Airbnb owners claim city is now notifying people like Melissa Jasper to stop opening up their homes to paid guests. 

Jasper says her Airbnb business was paying the mortgage. And she says the change is short-sighted, because a good Airbnb host is a booster for their city's image.

"It's good for everyone to see that Detroit isn't just ruin porn," says Jasper. "There's a lot going on that's quite normal and also very beautiful."

Joe Kraus has been an Airbnb host since 2011. He says he will be able to make do without the income now, but two years ago, when he was struggling financially, it would have been a blow.

Kraus says he thinks  passage of the ordinance might have been simply overlooked by many city council members, since it was buried in a 200-plus zoning ordinance amendment. He hopes the council will rectify what he calls "a mistake."

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan may also have been unaware of the change, since he appeared in a Airbnb video touting the service.


City officials say they are not enforcing the new rule yet and are asking the city lawyers to clarify some questions about it.

David Bell is the Director of the Buildings, Safety Engineering & Environmental Department (BSEED) for the City of Detroit He released the following statement following media coverage of the new ordinance:

"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. 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."

Bell says 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

Airbnb says it's been an economic engine for middle-class Detroiters, who earned a total of more than $5 million last year. The company says there are 430 active Airbnb hosts in Detroit, who earn an average $6,600 a year through home sharing.

This story was updated on 2/9/18 with information from the City of Detroit.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.