The Detroit City Council on Tuesday delayed a vote to toughen its rental regulations, including a controversial measure that would stop landlords from collecting rent if they don’t pass city inspections.
Under current law, units are supposed to be registered and have passed city inspections, including obtaining a certificate of compliance, before they can be rented out. But city officials admit they have let most landlords ignore the rules for more than a decade.
Councilman Andre Spivey, who introduced the changes in May, said his proposal adds “teeth” to the current law and streamlines regulations for landlords who follow the rules.
But during Tuesday’s session, council President Brenda Jones said she was concerned about the property rights of landlords who wouldn’t be able to evict tenants.
“You are telling me someone can stay in my property,” Jones said. “Even if it’s not up to code, I can’t say anything about you occupying my property. I have a concern with that.
“It’s still my property. You are telling someone to stay in my property rent free because I chose not to fix it up.”
After Jones and two other members voiced concerns, Spivey agreed to send the proposal back to a committee for more discussion.
Several speakers, including members of the Detroit Association of Realtors and Richard Clay of the group People for Utilities Reform, told the council the crackdown would hurt small landlords. Clay predicted rents would rise and other owners would lose their properties to foreclosure.
“Detroit’s small landlords desperately need more financial resources to help them comply with city ordinances and keep them in business instead of more fees and fines to drive them out. A spike in inspection-related fees and fines will cause a further, disastrous decline in black home ownership,” People for Utilities Reform said in a statement.
But supporters said the measures were crucial to making sure all landlords comply with safety regulations, including lead poisoning prevention efforts. Lead inspections are a part of obtaining a certificate of compliance.
“We know of landlords who own 300, 400, 500 properties and never registered their properties,” said Mary Sue Schottenfels, executive director of the nonprofit CLEAR/Corps Detroit, which works to prevent lead poisoning.
In 2015, more than 10 percent of children younger than 6 tested in eight Detroit ZIP codes had elevated blood lead levels.
According to city records, about 4,700 addresses were registered as rentals, as of last month,.
It’s unclear how many rentals aren’t registered, though the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the city has 140,000 rental units. City officials estimate that 50,000 rental properties have not been inspected.
“We aren’t trying to send owners into foreclosure or take rent,” Spivey said. “But we do need safe habitable (homes) for people to stay in.”
After a phase-in period, tenants who live in rentals that haven’t passed city inspections could put their rent in an escrow account for 90 days. The measure aims to stop evictions for non-payment of rent, if the owners haven’t complied with city rules, officials said. Landlords have said the regulation likely would be challenged in court.