Detroit cracking down on landlords allowing residents to live in unsafe conditions

Defenders get inside look at how Detroit cracks down on landlords

By Karen Drew - Reporter/Anchor, Derick Hutchinson

DETROIT - For years, landlords in Detroit were able to maneuver the system to operate without certification and avoid punishment. But over the past few months, that has all changed.

City officials have cracked down, and the Local 4 Defenders got an inside look at how they're getting that done.

Broken doors, cracks in the ceiling, fire damage and bugs are among the problems that renters have had to deal with in Detroit. Many renters with children have voiced concerns about needing help to make rental homes safe.

"See how this hangs off the wall where my daughter plays?" said the mother of a 4-year-old girl.

She also said she has an unresolved bug issue but was too afraid to complain because she thought the landlord would kick her out. She asked not to have her identity revealed.

"I have to get it done myself," she said.

A few miles away, another woman, in her 60s, said her rental has been cited by the city's blight enforcement program.

"We had a fire a couple years ago," she said.

When she complains to the landlord, she's told someone will come out, but they don't. She said she has asked five or six times.

The properties were placed on the city's radar, and landlords are now being held accountable more than ever. In certain ZIP codes, building inspectors from the city have started to target rentals that aren't registered or are noncompliant.

Landlords will have 90 days to get their properties registered as rentals with the city. Under the new ordinance, building owners will have six months to bring their property to code. After that point, if the corrections haven't been made, renters will be able to put their rent into escrow instead of continuing to pay the landlord without results.

"The message to landlords is you must move forward," director of Buildings and Safety Engineering in Detroit David Bell said. "We have to make sure that the tenants are living in a safe environment and that the neighbors aren't looking at blight when they walk out of their door."

Defender cameras were in court the past few months when landlords were hauled off to court for noncompliance.

"My concern is that no one should be living in a property that is unsafe and unsanitary," a judge said.

Day after day, judges cracked down on the property owners. The message is to pay fines and register properties or face prison time.

"You understand that you could be sentenced up to 93 days in jail," a judge said.

"The city didn't get this way overnight, and it's going to take some time to get these landlords to understand that we are not going anywhere," Bell said.

If you have a complaint or concern about your landlord, you can use the following information to get help or make a complaint.

City information on rental compliance

Information for landlords

Rental ordinance map

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