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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich (WZZM) -- Home-sharing has been a popular way for some Grand Rapids residents to attract tourists, but it's technically illegal.

Thursday, the city's planning commission narrowly passed an ordinance that could change that. Around 50 residents showed up; most say the regulations are too strict.

For the last three years, Brian VanEe has been sharing his a room or two in his home with tourists excited to visit Grand Rapids and the city's big events. He's an Airbnb host. It's an international program where people sign up to rent someone's room instead of a hotel.

"It started small and it's grown a little bit. Probably 20 to 28 people doing it in Grand Rapids with no issue, a clean track record. So why impose strict regulations now?" he asked us.

City planning director Suzanne Schulz says home-sharing is technically illegal. Before the meeting, she made a few adjustments to her original proposed regulations, and they narrowly passed 4-3 after a lengthy public hearing. She wants to start conservatively.

"So we're trying to take a careful approach so we're not making a problem for ourselves that we later have to fix," she said.

These are the rules, some of which have been adjusted:

  • The city will issue 200 licenses to homeowners. Schulz says they may add more down the road, depending on how popular the program becomes. "It's supply and demand," she said in the hearing. "But how many is too many?"
  • Homes must be owner-occupied, and owners can only rent out one room for two adults and their children
  • Neighbors within 300 feet must be notified after the license has been issued. Others on the commission had an issue with this rule, saying it's not necessary. Others said people should know what's going on their neighborhood.
  • Bed-and-breakfast establishments now cannot be within 500 feet of each other.

Fifty or so people showed up for Thursday's hearing, and many spoke out against the regulations, saying they're too strict.

"The success of ArtPrize, which is 400,000 visitors last year, a $21 million impact just in our 19-day event. That is only possible by an open-regulatory environment that allows for this type of innovation," Kevin Buist told the commission. He's the ArtPrize director of exhibitions.

"We want two rooms," said VanEe. "So we're disappointed on some of the rules."

A few members of the commission agreed.

But Heritage Hill resident Barbara Hekhuis doesn't buy into home-sharing just as a way to host tourists.

"This is about making money and selling. I just feel very strongly that what's being sold here is my neighborhood," she said.

Nobody in the audience left completely satisfied. But most are one step closer to renting parts of their homes to strangers legally.

Schulz says homeowners would be responsible for doing background checks on people who stay with them. The city will not put any regulations regarding sex offenders into the home-sharing law.

This ordinance now goes to the city commission in July and will get another public hearing. A final vote is expected at the end of August.

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