Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Possible clarification of rental law paused until August 2019

December 4, 2018
City council member Aaron Stephens speaks after being sworn in on Nov. 20, 2017, at the 54B District Court.
City council member Aaron Stephens speaks after being sworn in on Nov. 20, 2017, at the 54B District Court. —
Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

The introduction of a controversial ordinance to make it illegal to charge multiple months of rent at once is getting delayed, again.

In a mass email, East Lansing City Councilmember Aaron Stephens said he would not introduce the ordinance until Aug. 13, 2019.

After being discussed, but not formally introduced, at the Oct. 30 city council meeting, Stephens decided he needed more time for legal research on leasing agreements in Michigan and East Lansing.

This further delay come with more a specific rationale than past delays.

Stephens said in the email the delay was due to further concerns raised about rental housing in East Lansing that came to light because of the conversation surrounding the ordinance. He said he would use the time to “retool” a number issues faced by those living in East Lansing to include them in the ordinance. According to the email, he has the support of the majority of the council to do so.

"There are enough questions and there’s enough confusion that if we can't solve all those questions and eliminate all that confusion tonight —  yes it should be pushed off," Councilmember Ruth Beier said. "It’s a change that some people say is a violation of the law, some people say that it is state law. Since I’m not an attorney I would be comfortable waiting until all those questions were settled."

In text message, Councilmember Shanna Draheim said while she will not be at the meeting tonight, she supports Stephens' decision to push back the ordinance introduction.

Landlords and their attorneys have come out strongly against the ordinance, which reiterates state law by mandating that no more than one and a half months rent can be collected at a time, saying it was “redundant,” and would negatively affect business in the city.

In a previous State News article, Stephens said he was concerned about the possibility of a lawsuit surrounding the ordinance. Under that threat, he said the council may delay or work around the ordinance to keep out of court.

Stephens did say his legal counsel on the issue informed him the ordinance was completely sound. 

As of now, the ordinance is still on the agenda for the Dec. 4 city council meeting, and if the Oct. 30 meeting was anything to go by, there were a number of people prepared to to attend and talk to council about it during public comment.

Karly Graham contributed reporting.

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