Newsroom Muskegon cracks down on landlords with rental ordinance changes

September 20, 2018

MUSKEGON, MI – Muskegon code enforcers plan to start cracking down on negligent landlords after city officials recently approved seven changes to its rental ordinance.

The changes reflect an initiative on the part of Muskegon police and SAFEbuilt, the city’s inspections contractor, to make sure renters are moving into safe and clean dwellings if the previous renter trashes the home, duplex or apartment, according to a summary of the changes.

The new rules also set stricter expectations for landlords so they don’t cheat the system or move people into dwellings that need serious attention, said Muskegon Director of Public Safety Jeffrey Lewis.

The Muskegon City Commission discussed updates to the ordinance at a work session on Sept. 10 and voted to approve the changes at its Sept. 11 meeting.

Lewis told commissioners that the changes are necessary to improve and maintain the quality of its rental dwellings and to hold landlords accountable with clearer, more concise rules.

Notable changes include:

Repair timeline requirement

The previous ordinance did not specify how soon landlords have to make repairs or correct code violations. In some cases, landlords have requested unlimited extensions over small repairs, Lewis said.

The most recent change requires a landlord to submit a repair timeline to police and SAFEbuilt for approval if a landlord needs more than 30 days to make repairs or fix code violations.

New owners get a clean slate

Under the previous ordinance, if a rental unit changed hands between landlords, the new landlord would inherit the rental certificate of the previous owner. This made it more difficult to hold landlords accountable for code violations.

Now, a new landlord must apply for a new certificate of compliance to “maintain a higher quality of housing in Muskegon,” according to an explanation of the change provided to commissioners.

A porch has a bed, but is it a bedroom?

A small but important change to the ordinance is a new emphasis on disclosing how many bedrooms are legally allowed in a rental, in addition to the number of units in each building, Lewis said.

Knowing the number of legal bedrooms will make the landlord, renter and the inspections department aware of what can and cannot be used as a bedroom, Lewis added.

Case in point: Lewis said his department encountered cases where landlords had rented a basement as one bedroom to 20 or more people, which is a violation of the ordinance. Other instances have included landlords renting out attic spaces or enclosed porches as bedrooms – also a violation.

Stricter exemptions for family members

The previous ordinance allowed landlords to forego registering a rental unit if that unit was rented to a family member. Proof of familial relationship, such as a birth certificate, was required to receive this exemption.

That exemption still exists under the recently amended ordinance, but specifically limits that exemption to a grandparent, parent, child or current spouse of the owner. Nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles don’t count because that kind of familial relationship can be difficult to prove, Lewis said.

Certificates of compliance must be posted in each dwelling

Under the new ordinance, certificates of compliance with all city rental codes must be posted in each dwelling so tenants know that the property is certified. This will include how many bedrooms are legally allowed in each dwelling.

The change makes the tenant complaint process easier because tenants will be able to easily identify if a rental is up to code. It also lets emergency first responders know if the building is certified or over capacity.

Six-year licenses for landlords with no violations

Landlords were required to reapply for a certificate of compliance every four years, but under the new ordinance, landlords will be required to apply every three to six years, depending on their track record for compliance.

If a landlord is in good standing and doesn’t have any violations on record, the certificate will be valid for a period of six years. If a violation is found, then the certificate will only be valid for a period of three years.

Lewis said the change allows the city to keep its rentals in good condition and encourages landlords to have their units pass inspections so they can earn a six-year certificate.