Short-term rentals in Ann Arbor increase with return of football season

The return of an in-person football season has raised concerns about COVID-19 safety protocols, the joy of being back at Michigan Stadium, and a massive influx of visitors to Ann Arbor which has been absent since 2019. This year , every fall Saturday with a house can count on thousands of fans who make the trip to participate in the game day festivities.

Since Ann Arbor notoriously has low parking availability, many landlords take unconventional steps to ensure visitors have a place to park their cars. For many students and residents, especially those who live close to the stadium, renting parking spaces is often a popular choice.

Irfan Bhabhrawala, a longtime Ann Arbor resident, has rented out his driveway and lawn for football-related activities for 20 years. Whether for corporate meetings, small groups or simply parking, Irfan welcomes a variety of guests who all benefit from its proximity to the stadium.

In an interview with The Daily, Bhabhrawala highlighted how nice it is to resume the football season. Although he didn’t rent his parking space at all the previous season, this year has been business as usual, with one small exception.

“This year there hasn’t been a lot of demand for big events just because I think people were scared,” Bhabhrawala said. “A lot of these people are planning and booking well in advance, but some of the big events that people were afraid to attend didn’t know how the pandemic would be.”

Irfan isn’t the only one selling game day parking. LSA junior Agnes Dunne is required by her apartment lease to vacate her parking spaces on game days so that her landlord can sell those spaces to visitors.

Dunne told the Daily that she had to move her car to the street Friday night before the game if she wanted to be able to secure a spot. While generally speaking it’s not too inconvenient for her and her housemates, there can be downsides, including restricted driving availability.

“It’s a bit difficult because we can’t do anything on game day,” Dunne said. “If I wanted to go out and get some food or even if one of us has to work on game day, you probably won’t go to find a parking space near us again because it’s so close of the stadium.”

For visitors looking to stay overnight, short-term rentals like Airbnb vary in location and quality.

Real estate development company Prentice 4M was founded 10 years ago to provide short-term rentals in Ann Arbor. According to Prentice 4M founder Heidi Poscher, the company wanted to diversify its portfolio and found that short-term rentals were the best way to do this. Prentice 4M currently owns several properties just for Airbnb rentals, and Poscher said Prentice 4M likes to support football fans.

“Most of our units are right next to the stadium, so there are all kinds of fun things we do to make it a special stay for football guests,” Poscher said.

With increased pressure on the City of Ann Arbor’s short-term rentals, businesses say it’s becoming difficult for some short-term rental owners to see the value in continuing to rent their homes. In September 2020, the Ann Arbor City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting non-owner occupied short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods to improve housing affordability and accessibility.

At the September 2020 city council meeting, former council member Jane Lumm, D-Ward 2, said the ordinance would help provide housing for Ann Arbor residents year-round.

“All we know is that the number of short-term rentals has indeed increased, and each home used for short-term rentals is one less permanent housing unit,” Lumm said.

Alex Gross, independent manager of more than 20 different short-term rental properties in Ann Arbor, said the extra income that rental can generate is worth it for some landlords to keep renting.

“I rent a house and the four of us go out for one or two football games a year and pay the rent that way,” Gross said. “I think it helps with affordability because it gives people the opportunity to help pay their mortgage and rent for the football season.”

Although one of the many reasons people may seek short-term rentals is for football games, Poscher said the majority of their guests come to Ann Arbor for other reasons.

“Most of our business is business travellers, people who come to Michigan for health care, and we kind of have a growing number of people who are in technology or mobility or services. startups and have to come to Ann Arbor for sort of a shorter period of time than a one-year lease,” Poscher said.

Although the pandemic has caused a definite drop in demand for short-term rentals, this summer has been as busy as usual, according to Gross. When it comes to the football season, things also seem to be improving.

“For big games, I think we’ve seen as much traffic as before COVID, and for smaller games… It’s almost like two years ago,” Gross said. “The traffic has definitely been there, but I think overall the football season is going a bit slower.”

Asked about the short-term rental ordinance, Poscher said regulating short-term rentals shows how the city must balance preserving private development and ensuring the public good.

“The city has goals it’s trying to achieve and we should support that,” Poscher said. “We are responding to consumer demand and they have to respect that. I hope one thing that came out of all of these discussions is that everyone has a better appreciation for all of the dynamics that are operating here.

That consumer demand driven by football season and the various other attractions in Ann Arbor doesn’t seem to be slowing anytime soon, according to Gross, who also pointed to Airbnbs’ value to the city.

“I think Airbnbs offers a bit more value here than maybe anywhere else because there aren’t — at least right now — a lot of hotels around downtown and campus,” Gross said. “I think if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly place, Airbnb kind of has a place in that market.”

Daily News contributor Isabella Kassa can be reached at [email protected]

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