Detroit cites six ZIP codes for rental inspections

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News

Detroit officials announced on Monday the six ZIP codes where they’ll launch a new effort starting next month to inspect all city rentals.

Detroit officials announced on Monday the six ZIP codes where they’ll launch a new effort starting next month to inspect all city rentals.

Two are on the city’s east side, 48224 and 48215; two are on the west side, 48219 and 48223, and two are in southwest Detroit, 48210 and 48209.

If landlords don’t pass inspections, the new regulations allow renters to escrow the rent and avoid eviction until their landlord complies, city officials have said. City inspectors will focus their efforts in the 48215 area beginning Feb. 1. Tenants in that area could start withholding rent by Aug. 1 if a landlord has not obtained a certificate of compliance.

“We’ve got to increase the quality of life for tenants, neighbors and the citizens of Detroit,” said David Bell, director of Buildings, Safety Engineering & Environmental Department. “When the tenants hear they can withhold money in escrow, that will help us track down landlords.”

Bell pledged to have all rentals inspected citywide in two years.

Rentals have been required for years to be registered and pass city inspections. But city officials acknowledged they let most landlords ignore the rules for more than a decade before this pledged crackdown.

The Detroit City Council moved in late October to update its rental regulations, including adding the escrow provision, which will be administered by a third-party entity contracted by the city.

The new enforcement effort came after a year-long investigation published by The News that found families facing eviction in homes that were never inspected by the city and had dangerous problems: lack of heat in the winter, hazardous electric systems, missing windows, infested with mice and one with a sewage-filled basement.

But some landlords have said letting tenants escrow rent will make operating in the city more difficult and predicted the escrow provision would be challenged in court.

“So, what’s to stop a tenant from playing the system and deliberately damaging the property so the property fails all/repeated inspections? How does a landlord with good intentions get rid of a slum-tenant?” Drew Sygit, president of the Real Estate Investors Association of Oakland, wrote in an email to The News.

The city says it will be mailing out pamphlets explaining the new regulations to all residents soon in the ZIP codes.

Councilman Andre Spivey, who introduced the ordinance changes, said it isn’t a “witch hunt” against landlords but that renters “deserve to have quality, decent housing.”

As of now, Bell said about 6,000 Detroit rental addresses are registered and inspected, in a city the U.S. Census Bureau estimates as having 140,000 rental units.

Bell said their data estimates there are about 40,000 unregistered rental addresses. Each address could have multiple units.

The city is already facing push back from landlords in court. Last week, two rental property companies filed a federal lawsuit against Detroit arguing the rental inspection regulations violate their rights by allowing city inspectors to enter their property without a warrant.

City officials say they are trying to work with landlords.

Under the new ordinance, landlords who have no blight violations and have paid their property taxes or are on a county payment plan would be put on a two-year inspection schedule for multi-family properties, and every three years for one- to two-family rentals. Previously, inspections were supposed to happen annually.

The lead hazard requirements are changed as well. Landlords would need an initial $450-$700 lead inspection but after that would only need an annual $250 risk assessment, where a trained inspector looks for problems like peeling paint. Before they had to do the more costly lead inspection annually.