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Grand Rapids residents want tougher ordinance to protect renters

For Rent sign
Kurt Bauschardt
Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
For Rent sign

The city of Grand Rapids has a proposed ordinance that aims to protect renters from predatory landlords.

But residents at a public hearing during a city commission meeting last night don’t think the ordinance is harsh enough on bad landlords.

The ordinance would fine landlords $50 for not returning application fees to prospects who were rejected. Each additional infraction would increase the amount landlords must pay.

Ben Kaiser, who works with the affordable housing advocacy group Homes for All, says the ordinance won’t be adequate until all application fees are banned.

“A lot of businesses spend a ton of money on marketing to get people to apply or partake in their business, and I think that's something that landlords should just absorb,” Kaiser said.

Samika Pickens, a renter living in Grand Rapids, says landlords need to be held more accountable.

“[Landlords] are ripping us off and are keeping our fees. It’s ridiculous,” Pickens said.

Pickens says there is inconsistency in application fee charges among rental property owners. She thinks that’s a sign the system is broken, but most people in her shoes won’t do much about it.

“Landlords can do shady stuff, but who’s to say we’re going to even report it? Some of us don’t report these landlords because we’re scared we’re going to get thrown out or not get the place we want,” she said.

But not everybody was in agreement about application fees going out the window. Martin Green owns Green Property Management, which manages and maintains living units in West Michigan.

He says that getting rid of application fees may not be the best for anyone in the long run.

“I think that banning [application fees] altogether would create a nightmare for property managers to accept applications from any and everybody,” Green said.

While that might not sound bad to some, Green argues that it ultimately hurts the tenant.

“If the property managers absorb that cost, you know who ends up paying for all those background and credit checks? The person who ends up getting the unit because the landlord will just hike the rent price up,” he said.

Green does, however, think that some landlords abuse the system that’s currently in place.

“Some landlords do keep the money from application fees after rejecting people who they already knew wouldn’t be able to afford a place. That’s what this ordinance should address,” he said.

City commission will make amendments to the ordinance over the next month. It is scheduled to be up for discussion again on July 10.

Bryce Huffman was Michigan Radio’s West Michigan Reporter and host of Same Same Different. He is currently a reporter for Bridge Detroit.
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