Inspector says new policy


Landlords to discuss new fees at Feb. 25 meeting

By Tom Gantert

Legal News

Local landlords are concerned about the increase in fees after the city of Jackson revised its inspection program in 2012 by requiring property owners to register non-owner occupied and vacant residential properties.

City of Jackson Inspector Dennis Diffenderfer spoke to a handful of landlords about the revised inspection program Jan. 30 at a community forum on landlord and tenant rights sponsored by Legal Services of South Central Michigan and Southeastern Dispute Resolution Services.

But the debate is far from over.

The Jackson Area Landlord Association will discuss the updated ordinance at its Feb. 25 meeting at Steak's Eatery, 4343 Oaklane Road in Jackson. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.

The Jackson City Council updated the existing ordinances on Feb. 21, 2012 to make it easier for the city to identify who owns rental and vacant properties. The city estimates that will cover 6,400 to 7,000 properties.

Robert Tulloch, board president of the Jackson Area Landlord Association, said area landlords aren't upset about having to register their properties, although he called it "not necessary."

"We're not opposed to the city having knowledge of the rentals," Tulloch said. "We don't like paying all these fees that endlessly add up."

"The clients do not like the city approach to the problem," said Tony Raduazo, the attorney for the Jackson Area Landlords Association. "(The) feeling (is) that it is far too intrusive and will lead to the harassment of certain landlords. They feel it is far from a welcoming approach to doing business in the city."

In the past, Tulloch said the city could identify non-owner occupied properties by comparing the name and address on the property tax bill and the water bills. If those addresses were different, it was not owner-occupied.

Previously, it was not required that all land transactions be filed with the city of Jackson. Now, every property owner is required to register the non-occupied and vacant properties with the city of Jackson.

Tulloch said that instead of inspections every four years, the schedule is now every two years.

The registration fees are $30 per structure plus $10 for each non-owner occupied unit. There is also a late registration fee penalty of $5 per unit per day.

The inspection fees are now $175 per unit. Tulloch said that's an increase from $125 per building, which included one unit, and another $10 fee for each additional unit. He said the cost for registering and inspection of a four-unit building increased from $155 under the old ordinance to $750 under the revised codes.

Diffenderfer said the registration program has been helpful.

"It eases the communication between the city and (property) owner," he said. "We know immediately who to contact."

He said the registration program has reduced the number of "no shows" by property owners during inspections.

Often times, tenants will lodge a complaint directly with the city and not address their concerns with their landlord, Diffenderfer said.

The registration program allows the city to alert landlords about those complaints and learn about the problem directly from the tenant.

At the forum, Diffenderfer gave examples of how the city struggled to find property owners without the registration program. He said a retired teacher just had paid off her house in full but then left it vacant and moved out of state.

"She just walked away," he said.

The teacher didn't keep on the utilities and the property quickly fell into deplorable condition. The property was free and clear of the bank.

"Nobody wanted to take responsibility," Diffenderfer said.

He also told of a building on West Michigan Avenue that sat vacant for years. People passing by would alert the city that there was a lot of snow piling up on the flat roof, which could eventually collapse under the weight. Diffenderfer said that when the city couldn't locate a property owner to contact, the roof eventually did collapse and the building had to be condemned. He said it could have been prevented if the registration program had been in place at the time.

"We are your partner," he told the audience, "to preserve property in the city."

Published: Thu, Feb 14, 2013