EAST TAWAS – The first reading of the proposed residential residence ordinance was delayed by a 7-0 vote after a group of local landlords again voiced their opposition at the East Tawas City Council meeting on Jan. 6.

The proposed ordinance, if passed, will require owners of residential rental property to register their units with the zoning administrator and hire a local agent if the owner resides more than 30 miles outside of the city in order to receive a certificate of registration, according to the draft of the ordinance. Occupation of rental units would not be permitted without a certificate of registration.

An inspection program will also be instituted if the proposed ordinance is passed. Units will be subject to inspection every three years, or more frequently in the event of complaints from property owners or tenants, a report from a city agency, an exterior survey giving probable cause, unregistered use, or other reasons. The cost of the inspections will be borne by the property owners.

A six-page checklist of inspection items based on the 2018 International Property Maintenance Code was included in the draft. The draft states that “the intent of this checklist is to provide a reasonable level of predictability and consistency for owners, residents and reviewing personnel,” and that “reviewers are required to use a significant amount of professional judgement,” as “not all apparent violations present a threat to the health and safety of tenants.” 

Areas covered in the checklist include exterior property, exterior structure, dwelling unit entry, living room, dining room, kitchen/utility, bathroom, bedroom, and other areas, as well as means of egress, fire protection, heat supply, screens plumbing, mechanical and electrical work.

A schedule of residential rental fees was included in the draft of the proposed ordinance. During the initial registration period (2020 thru 2021), property owners may register their units with a self-certification free of charge before Jan. 1, 2021. Registration after that date will cost $30 per unit. A municipal civil infraction will be assessed for operating without a permit, “subject to a $500 fine plus restitution to the city for actual costs and fees of enforcement. Each day on which a violation exists shall constitute a separate offense.”

Rental inspection of fees will be assessed beginning Jan. 1, 2022, according to the draft. Inspection fees would be $90 per unit for a regular three-year inspection. Lower fees would be charged for multiple units being inspected at the same time. Following the second failed inspection, a re-inspection fee of $125 would be assessed. The cost of an appeal for failed inspections would be $200 plus administrative fees. Transfer of ownership of any rental property found to be in violation of the code would be restricted until the new owners acknowledge legal responsibility for correction of the violation.

In the public comments section of the meeting, several people expressed their opposition to the proposed ordinance for a variety of reasons. Ken DeLage objected, saying, “We’ve never had this type of ordinance before.” DeLage called it “beyond unjust” and “unconstitutional,” and added that it would force landlords to raise rental rates, which would hurt both landlords and renters.

Local real estate agent Lindsey Duby spoke out against the proposal. Duby noted that rental properties are currently needed to meet demand in the area, as companies such as Kalitta Air in Oscoda are hiring, bringing new families to the area. She said that additional restrictions may inhibit growth in the rental business, and that prospective tenants may be forced to surrounding communities such as Hale and Greenbush to find affordable housing.

Dennis Frank called the proposed ordinance “an overreach,” and suggested that the city give the recently-adopted International Property Maintenance Code “a chance to work” in the community’s battle against blight. “Renters can’t afford more,” he added, asking the council to consider the impact of the new law first, and vote “no.”

Joe Cano complained that the city was “singling out landlords,” and if the council was concerned about safety, that measures should “apply to all homes, not just rentals.”

Jim Moran of Hubbard Lake, who owns rental property in East Tawas, said that he doesn’t rent property that he wouldn’t live in himself. Moran added that he wants his son to carry on in his rental business, but that the new law may prevent that from happening.

DeLage stated that he felt that very few older homes would pass the inspections. He called the proposed ordinance “a terrible idea.”

City Manager Brent Barringer commented that the city’s goal was not to make life more difficult for rental owners. Councilman Craig McMurray said that he has a “lot of concerns” about the proposed ordinance, and that the council should “slow down and back up if we need to.” Councilwoman Blinda Baker moved to postpone the reading, and the council unanimously approved her motion.

Council scheduled a work session for Jan. 9, to reassess the proposed ordinance. The agenda for that session called for the council to:

(1.) Outline the City’s blight and housing stock objectives;

(2.)  Weigh political impacts vs. city objectives;

(3.) Define staffing goals for overall ordinance enforcement;

(4.) Discuss residential ordinance input; and

(5.) Determine the next step.