Rental Inspection Ordinance Approved in Rochester

After months of deliberation, a divided Rochester City Council approved a new ordinance Monday that requires registration and inspection of residential rental properties. The vote was 4-3, with Councilmembers David Becker, Kim Russell and David Zemens dissenting.

The ordinance, which has been significantly scaled back from its initial form, imposes no fees and relies on landlords to register and inspect their own properties. It also calls for the city’s fire department to audit at least 10 percent of those self-inspections annually.

After the crash of the housing market in 2008 and the resulting rise in foreclosures,council appointed a task force to find ways to protect property values. The task force is credited with the idea of the inspection ordinance, as well as a separate ordinance covering registration of vacant properties which was approved earlier.

The rental ordinance has generated vocal support and opposition for months. Not surprisingly, landlords strongly opposed it, while residents were largely supportive. Landlords continued to oppose it Monday, even after council announced that there would be no fees.

“This ordinance is very expensive and it’s not the monetary cost, it’s the cost of my right to manage my property, my investment, without having to have permission of the city of Rochester to do that,” said  Robert Bloomingdale, who has been a leading critic of the ordinance. “I would be less opposed if I believed there was a good reason for it. …

“We’re premium taxpayers. We’re investors in the city of Rochester; we’re loyal to the city of Rochester. … I don’t see how any of you could have come to the conclusion that this ordinance is necessary.”

The three council members who opposed the ordinance said it was an intrusion on privacy, would place new burdens on landlords and unfairly treats rentals differently than owner-occupied homes.

“This is a better ordinance than it was when it started, but it’s still an ordinance I can’t vote for,” Zemens said. 

Russell was concerned for the absentee owners of single-family homeswho had never been landlords before.Those are precisely the landlords that concern residents.

“They’re accidental landlords; they shouldn’t be in the business,” said Realtor Dale Peppel. “It’s not a business to them; it’s survival. … They don’t want to give up their home.”

Steve Szoke, co-president of the Stony Pointe Homeowners Association, said associations representing about 40 percent of the city’s voters are on record in support of the ordinance.

“I believe all the council is looking for is the safety and well-being of the community, and we applaud you for that.” He urged council to “put some teeth in it. Because if you get a slap on the hand, people are not going to do too much.”

“Compromises have been made,” said resident Carol Ann Scott. “Many surrounding communities have adopted similar ordinances with great success. The increase in the number of rentals in the city shows undeniably the need for this type of ordinance is there.

Landlords are now required to register their rental homes with the fire department and complete the first self-inspection by the end of the year.  Subsequent self-inspections must be completed at a change of occupant. Audits will be conducted by the fire department. Violation of the ordinance is a civil infraction punishable by a fine of up to $500 per day.

Councilman Ben Giovanelli said the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments has urged local governments to enact such ordinances in the wake of the foreclosure crisis gripping the state.

“I’ve never seen this in my lifetime where we’ve had such a quick rundown in property values,” he said.  “To say that Rochester is going rogue and inventing some ordinance that nobody needs is just not correct. …

“If I’ve got a vacant home next to me which I do; if I’ve got a vacant property near me, which I do…I’m harmed. … We all have a stake in it.”

Mayor Jeff Cuthbertson said complaints prove the need. Rentals make up 15 percent of the city’s housing, but since July they have been the subject of 45 percent of complaints about blight, he said.

“This can’t go unnoticed,” he said.

By Annette Kingsbury

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