Spring Lake reevaluates rental rules

Township dismisses ordinance violation, agrees to review short-term use
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Spring Lake Township is in the process of reexamining its short-term rental ordinance, following the dismissal of an ordinance violation leveled against an Ottawa County LLC.

Grand Haven Attorney Ross Reuterdahl, representing the defendant Kihnke Investment Group, filed a motion challenging the township’s short-term rental ordinance, arguing the regulations were unconstitutional.

KIG’s rental property is located at 18841 N. Fruitport Road, in a zoning district that does not permit short-term rentals. However, Reuterdahl argued the ordinance specifically excludes limited liability companies and does not apply to his client.

“A government cannot pass a law that is so vague it does not give citizens adequate direction to conform to the law,” Reuterdahl said. “We challenged the ordinance, because we felt it didn’t adequately define possession or occupancy.”

In court filings, the defendent argued the ordinance offers no guidance as to what law enforcement might consider “possession” or “occupancy” of a dwelling, leading to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement under these circumstances.

Reuterdahl added the violation notice the township issued his client also was vague, and instead of allowing the defendant to pay the usual $50 fine, the township decided to take the issue to Ottawa County district court.

But before Reuterdahl had the opportunity to declare the charges unconstitutional, the township chose to dismiss the charges. In the dismissal documents, the township asserted it did not concede any of the issues the defendant raised, but indicated it would review its ordinance before seeking prosecution.

“The township didn’t even want to defend their position,” Reuterdahl said. “They folded like origami and decided not to defend their ordinance.”

The concession regardless was a victory for his Ottawa County client, whom he argued was wrongfully cited.

“I am pleased for the result my client achieved,” Reuterdahl said. “This is, and always has been, an issue of property rights, and we would expect if the government is going to take those rights they at least abide by constitutional standards.”

The short-term rental ordinance is still on the books, but for now it appears the township will not enforce it until it is amended, Reuterdahl said.

Spring Lake Township Manager Gordon Gallagher said the township is still committed to enforcing its short-term rental rules, as evidenced by a previous defense of the ordinance that went all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court and prevailed. But Gallagher added the technicality brought up in this recent district court case revealed an opportunity to consider an amendment to improve the ordinance.

“The township will review the matter and, as it has done in the past, the township will continue to work diligently to ensure compliance with its short-term rental ordinances,” Gallagher said.

The township‘s ordinance defines short-term rentals as the rental or subletting of any dwelling for 27 days or less. The definition does not include campgrounds, hotel rooms, nonprofit transitional housing, hospitals or other health care-related facilities.

Short-term rentals must be registered and licensed with the township’s community development director.

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