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Politics & Government

Detroit City Council hears pleas for better protections for renters

Jodi Westrick
Michigan Radio
Homes in Detroit.

A Detroit City Council committee heard some passionate pleas for tighter rules on city landlords and their rental properties Monday.

Renters’ advocates and neighborhood groups said it’s past time to tighten up the city’s rental property, ordinance especially now that Detroit has moved from a majority-homeowner to a majority-renter city.

The proposed new rules would amend an existing city ordinance, which city leaders admit has not been well enforced in recent years.

Among other things, it would update penalties and fines for violations; update landlord registration and inspection requirements; and update provisions for lead inspection and abatement in rental properties.

Ted Phillips, executive director of Detroit’s United Community Housing Coalition, was one of several people who urged the City Council to act quickly.

Phillips and others say that in recent years, investors -- many from out of state and overseas -- have snapped up tax-foreclosed properties at Wayne County’s annual tax auction.

But they often don’t follow the rules. And that means some renters live in squalid conditions, while many others face eviction.

“We are going to have, in a few weeks, hundreds of new investors, hundreds of new landlords,” Phillips said. “Can we have something in place so it’s at least clear to them, as to how the system works and what they’re required to do?”

Patricia Taylor-Braxton, head of the O’Hair Park Community Association in Northwest Detroit, said “It’s clear that we have to negotiate the language of the ordinance,” but that “it’s time for Detroit to take itself seriously” and enforce rules protecting renters.

Taylor-Braxton said that 41% of that community is now made up of renters. “So we reach out to our renters, and try to include them in the community,” she said. “This is what Detroit is going to have to do.”

City officials are still hashing out final updated language behind the scenes. If passed out of the council’s Public Health and Safety Committee and approved by the whole council next week, it could head to a public hearing later this month.

Some landlords’ groups had previously warned that increased enforcement could drive them out of business in the city.

On Monday, public criticism of the new proposal was much milder. Some said the city should improve its “ticketing process” for informing landlords in violation of current rules, but that everyone involved should be able to agree on new language. 

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