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Housing advocates, landlords argue over housing code changes

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
There are roughly 4,000 vacant homes in the city of Grand Rapids. In February, Grand Rapids Public Schools had to cancel classes for several days after a major snow storm because of unplowed sidewalks.

Dozens of rental property owners and housing advocates are expected at a meeting in Grand Rapids this week. The rise of foreclosures could prompt the city to change parts of its housing code.

The city inspects rental properties with two or more units. They check for fire alarms, peeling or chipping lead paint, and other safety hazards. But single family homes for rent are exempt from inspections.

Tyler Nickerson is with the Grand Rapids Area Coalition to End Homelessness. The non-profit group advocates for safe and affordable housing. Nickerson says the group would like the city to start inspecting single family rental properties because there are so many on the market now. 

“Properties were able to be sold cheaply at auction after foreclosure; purchased by a rental property owner and not required to have inspections on the backend, Nickerson said, "It was a real easy business to get into.”

Nickerson says mandatory inspection would help ensure all rental houses are safe and up to code for tenants and the neighborhood.

Tom Koetsier is president of the Rental Property Owners Association of Kent County. The group is against any added cost or regulation for landlords.

“When a landlord comes in and buys that house and puts people back in them, the lawn starts getting mowed again, improvements are made and now there’s somebody there taking care of the house – are we the problem? Or are we the solution?”

Koetsier says it’s more important that rental properties with multiple units are inspection. “When you’re in a single family house you’re not affecting the rights or health issues of any other individuals,” Koetsier said. He gave the example that if someone is tampering with a fire alarm in a duplex or multi-family dwelling, it causes a more immediate safety hazard.

Koetsier notes tenants who can’t get their landlords to address safety concerns can file a complaint with the city. That would prompt an inspection.

Dozens of cities in Michigan have already adopted similar rules; including Detroit, Lansing, and Kalamazoo.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station'sAmplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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