MICHIGAN CITY – Despite repeated protests from both landlords and renters, the Michigan City Common Council will vote Tuesday on an ordinance that, if passed, would establish a local landlord registry, and a rental safety inspection and verification program.
More than 20 citizens commented on the issue at last week’s council meeting – most of them landlords concerned that the ordinance would make it difficult for them to do business in Michigan City.
Some asked that the ordinance be tabled, revised and revisited once its flaws are worked out. Others expressed opposition to it in any form, and said all the necessary regulations already exist within the city code, but aren’t being enforced.
Landlord George Ledonne brought a copy of the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC), the standards the city currently uses for rental inspections. He highlighted some of the rules he feels are most stringent. For instance, it requires that trash receptacles in rentals be cleaned at least weekly, something he believes tenants should be doing, but he could be cited for if they don’t.
“It gets to be very much on the plate of a landlord,” said Ledonne, who owns about 50 rental units in Michigan City. “I would just hope you take that under consideration to enforce what you have now. Go after the people that you have a problem with because, thus far, I’ve been very happy here in Michigan City. … But the way this is written, it’s going to inhibit me looking into anymore investment in the city.”
Bill Schaefer, a local resident and landlord who spoke in favor of the ordinance on its first reading in July, said he has since had a change of heart and disapproves of it as currently written.
“While (the ordinance) holds the landlords to performance, it doesn't really require the city to do anything,” Schaefer said. “So, if I buy a house, and I remodel it, and I notify the city that this is going to be a rental property and it needs to be inspected, there's no requirement for the city to get out there in any kind of a timeframe to inspect it. And in the meantime, I've got a vacant property, waiting to see when and if it's going to get inspected."
Schaefer, who considers himself among the city’s good landlords, said he and his wife purchase one to two Michigan City properties per year, and invest $10,000-$60,000 in them before bringing in renters.
He said he agrees with members of Organized and United Residents of Michigan City and others who demand that renters have safe, affordable housing options; but cautioned that the new ordinance as it’s written would “get rid of good landlords as collateral damage.
“The tenant deserves a decent place to live, due process; and the landlords, to be able to make a little money on their investment,” Schaefer said. “There needs to be a way for that to happen. … But for now, my wife and I have decided, let's not buy another property until we see how this plays out.”
Caitlin Ferrell of OURMC said her organization stands with renters – roughly half the city population – and is in favor of having a landlord registry and rental safety inspection program. However, she said, the ordinance as written is flawed, and should be tabled and tweaked.
OURMC’s official position is that the ordinance should address issues like mold and the cost of tenant displacement in the event of inspection, remediation or condemnation, Ferrell said. They also want it to include more details on the rollout strategy and a plan for adding new code enforcers to the city budget.
“We aren’t demanding beautifully landscaped properties,” she said. “We are simply asking that tenants and their children are not left living in rental units that expose them to life- or health-threatening conditions; and that if they are forced out of their homes, they are not left to rely on the charity of others to keep a roof over their head.”
Councilwoman Sharon Carnes, who authored the ordinance, requested its last two “whereas” clauses be removed so as not to conflate it with the city’s Lead-based Paint Hazard Reduction Program.
And she asked that the section stipulating property managers reside within Indiana be changed to require they reside within a 50-mile radius of Michigan City.
Council President Don Przybylinski objected to the latter amendment, saying he believes it doesn’t matter where a landlord or property manager lives, just that the residence is properly maintained. He was the only council member to vote against Carnes’ amendments to the ordinance.
Councilman Bryant Dabney, one of the ordinance’s co-sponsors, said he’d prefer to slow the approval process. However, he was adamant that, ultimately, a landlord registry and rental safety inspection program should be established despite opposition from the landlord community.
The council is scheduled to vote on whether to approve the amended ordinance at its regular meeting Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, 100 E. Michigan Blvd.