If you live in the Fordson-West or the Princeton-Carlysle neighborhoods in Dearborn, the likelihood that you live in a rental property–or next door to one–is high.
Rental homes can be a godsend for those looking for safe, affordable housing in a community with solid schools and access to jobs.
But for homeowners, the rental properties can be seen as a drag on property values. Issues of whether landlords and tenants are living up to their responsibility to maintain their properties, and whether having an abundance of non-owner-occupied housing destabilizes neighborhoods, have been a hot topic as property values have continued to fall during tough economic times.
In Dearborn, which is struggling with a high number of foreclosed homes amid a difficult local economy, this battle is keenly felt. From 2000 to 2010, the number of single family rental homes has increased by 9 percent–to an estimated 5,795 houses–and now represents about 15 percent of the city’s housing, according to data provided by the city. That number does not include apartment units, which in most cases are not required to register with the city.
“Rentals are something that we’re keeping an eye on,” said Mayor Jack O’Reilly. “We’re getting ready to have discussions about rental properties; we’re putting together a committee to look at this issue. We don’t want to have a community that is overrun with rental homes.”
The first meeting of the Rental Housing Task Force–which is comprised of elected officials, administrators, residents and landlords–took place Nov. 9. The goal of the task force is to set policies for landlords, improve codes, and explore ways to improve the overall environment in the city.
A Real or Perceived Problem?
If landlords fail to perform maintenance and upkeep on their properties, it can create safety and nuisance issues that drag down property values.
But the idea of rental properties causing real damage to the city’s image and real estate values is more of a perception problem than reality, according to Director of Residential Services Nick Siroskey, who commissioned a study that shows rental homes have actually improved overall.
In 1995, the city evaluated the condition 5, 000 homes. Recently, a return to the same homes showed several improvements, most likely as a result of demolitions, and a clean-up effort called Operation Eyesore. But another survey of 1,200 residents showed that a majority of those surveyed indicated that rental properties were problematic in their communities.
At Master Plan meetings held over the summer, : the No. 1 issue gleaned from the community workshops was rental homes.
“It’s not always true that rental homes are a problem; we have many rental homes that meet all of our codes and are well-maintained,” Siroskey said. “And we have owner-occupied homes that are a problem.”
Barb Bechard, who with her husband Frank owns three rentals on the city's east end, said landlords sometimes are unfairly being painted with the same brush.
“There are some unscrupulous landlords," she said. "But there are just as many (owner occupied) homes that are in bad shape. We’ve called the city to let them know about things like a hole in the roof. And those homes aren't rentals."
Increases in Numbers, Underground Rentals
The reason for the rise in rentals is complex, and because the city of Dearborn did not begin registering properties prior to a few years ago, the rate of escalation is difficult to determine, Siroskey said. Currently, 3,727 properties are officially registered, and there could be as many as another 2,086 that occupied under the radar, Siroskey said.
“There’s been a big push recently to get rentals registered,” he said. “We’ve encouraged residents to report rentals that they think might not be registered, and we’ve received a lot of responses.”
A number of ideas have emerged as possible solutions to rental woes, including setting limits on certification, requiring landlords to submit lease paperwork to the city, offering classes for landlords, providing rewards in the form of reduced inspection fees to compliant landlords, and offering special designations to exemplary landlords.
The goal of the task force, said Siroskey, is to have a final document that provides feasible solutions regarding rental homes in three to six months. Currently, the city is working on creating a neighborhood stabilization map that will assist in meeting that goal.
The city is also looking at Craigslist to identify rental homes, and working with realtors to get a better handle on what’s happening in specific neighborhoods. Siroskey added that the city also needs to make sure any ordinance it changes or enacts will need to reviewed to make sure it complies with Fair Housing provisions.
"We’re taking steps to go through all of the information until we have a list the mayor and council can act on,” he said.
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