City pushes landlords to register rental properties
Detroit — The city on Friday put out a call to Detroit landlords to register their rental properties ahead of stepped-up enforcement next year.
Mayor Mike Duggan warned the city is gearing up for “a serious enforcement period” in January for rental owners who fail to register and undergo required city inspections.
“We have an ordinance that requires you to register your properties — nobody has enforced that in years. We are going to get back to that,” Duggan told a crowd of more than 100 current and prospective landlords at City Hall.
“What we’re trying to figure out how to do is take the strong landlords and help them grow and succeed and thrive, and take those who are abusing the system and not make it attractive for you to stay in the city. We are giving you notice now.”
The Friday seminar is believed to be the first of its kind for Detroit as officials ramp up efforts to get owners of rental homes or apartments to gain compliance with the regulations.
David Bell, director of the city’s Buildings Safety Engineering & Environmental Department, said officials want landlords with vacant rentals to get them registered within 30 days. For occupied properties, they want them to begin the process immediately.
Landlords are required to register with the building department and get annual certificates of compliance showing they are safe and inhabitable.
The majority of rentals, though, aren’t registered. The city has about 2,500 rental addresses registered, while U.S. Census data estimate there are more than 136,000 rental housing units in the city.
Failure to register or get a certificate of compliance are both punishable by $250 fines, officials said.
Duggan on Friday said he plans to ask Detroit’s City Council to sign off on an ordinance amendment that would require rental owners be current on property taxes to obtain a certificate of compliance for their properties in 2017.
The city is also slated to go live with an online database that will show all of Detroit’s rental properties with the proper certificates and approvals, he said.
“I envision a city in 2017 where every single tenant in this city can go online and in a minute find out whether their rental property is legally authorized and operating in the city,” Duggan said. “But we’re saying here today: Get a head start on this before the rush is coming.”
Rich Salem and Peter Sirr own about a dozen single-family rentals in the city and their Royal Oak-based management company oversees another 150 to 175 homes, primarily in Detroit.
The pair said they’ve already been working to register the homes with the city and came out Friday to learn more.
“Personally, I look at this and think it’s a great thing. You can eliminate all the slum landlords,” said Sirr, of Preferred Homes Michigan. “If you do everything the right way it’s going to cost you a few extra bucks, but it’s not a big deal.”
Duggan noted the city’s land bank owns about 30,000 vacant houses. About 5,000 of the properties could be rehabbed and another 5,000 are occupied with squatters, former homeowners or renters with landlords who failed to pay taxes.
“People who are tenants who were paying rent to a landlord every month had no idea the landlord wasn’t paying taxes,” he said. “...we can’t let this continue to happen.”
The Friday presentation gave attendees tips on crime prevention, squatters, fire and lead safety. Officials also distributed registration steps and requirements and inspections information.
The city launched pilot programs in East English Village and the Bagley neighborhoods to boost registration and inspections.
To help identify landlords, Bell has said the city is using records from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.
“We are here to partner with you to increase the quality of life in Detroit,” Bell said. “For too long its been an adversarial relationship and it doesn’t have to be that way. We can’t bring this city back without you.”
Detroit resident and landlord James Lovejoy said he’s worried about the financial impact the changes will have on property owners and tenants.
“I’ve got a property and I’m already charging a set amount of rent, and now the city comes and hands me a bill for inspections,” said Lovejoy, who has three occupied rentals. “I’ll get it all up to code but now the taxes are raised up and I’m going to have to raise my rent on the tenants. People are already struggling to pay rent.”
To register properties online, visit the city’s website.
Staff writer Christine MacDonald contributed.