Residents call for crackdown on bad landlords and tenants

City Council says new ordinance in the works to address issues

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published July 31, 2013

GROSSE POINTE PARK — Tired of the bad image they say a handful of tenants and landlords are giving the city, residents are asking city officials to crack down on regulations for landlords and tenants, and possibly enact new regulations.

A number of residents addressed the City Council during a meeting July 22, calling for tougher standards. The push seems to be motivated, in part, by reports that Myron T. Williams, the man charged with murdering his Wayburn neighbor, Sabrina Gianino, was violating rental codes by living with his family in the attic of a second-floor flat rented by his nephew, without the landlord’s knowledge.

Patrick Mann, a Wayburn resident for more than 50 years, said that the murder in the 1300 block and a rental in the 1100 block that has had numerous visits from the police underscore the need for better regulations and enforcement.

“Talking about Wayburn Avenue, I’ve become very disappointed. … This is the most vulnerable part of the city, and it’s falling apart,” Mann told the council. “I think a lot has to be done in cleaning up that part of the city.”

City Council member Daniel Clark said it’s something officials already had in the pipeline.

“Our ordinance review committee is currently working on an ordinance … to hold landlords accountable, to try to generate a better quality of tenant,” he said, adding that he had just read a first draft of the proposed ordinance the day before the council meeting.

As to limiting the number of occupants in each unit, City Manager Dale Krajniak said that’s something that’s part of the state maintenance and property code. City Council member Robert Denner concurred, saying that there’s a formula for that number based on square footage and other factors.

City Council member Gregory Theokas suggested putting the maximum number of tenants in future certificates of occupancy, to give city officials even more of a basis to prosecute violators. Clark said such a move “may not require modification … of the ordinance.

“I think we should be doing it,” Clark continued.

Matthew and Loraina Saari are Wayburn renters who live near the reportedly troubled rental unit in the 1100 block, and they said that dwelling has been a recurrent sore spot in the neighborhood. The Saaris are among those who believe officials need to hold landlords more accountable for their tenants.

“It’s a shame because it’s really a great block (otherwise),” Loraina Saari said.

Wayburn resident Jodi Stephens advocated standardizing rental agreements, if possible, because the ones she’s seen are all different.

“It just might help … for enforcement purposes and legal purposes,” she said. “We shouldn’t have people living in attics and basements, and it does happen.”

However, City Attorney Dennis Levasseur said that’s not something the city could mandate.

Still, officials say they are trying to come up with an ordinance that would address concerns expressed by residents about rentals. One element would be blocking landlords who allow too many tenants in a unit from continuing to do business in the city, Denner said. The ordinance under consideration at press time would require a license or business permit for all landlords, and landlords would need to register and be licensed with the city to rent, Levasseur said. Landlords would also have to register each of their rental units, he said. Business permits would be handled by the City Council, which also doubles as the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals, he added.

“Those are some of the key things we’re looking at,” Levasseur said. “It gives us a hammer … but it also gives us (a way) to keep a handle on (what’s going on).”

Mayor Palmer Heenan said the Park is planning to start police patrols by beat soon in the Wayburn area. He said they would likely be approving funding for this endeavor at their next regular meeting in August.

“We’re just as concerned as you are about our city,” Heenan said. “We love our city, and it seems, in many ways, it’s thriving.”

The city’s business district on Kercheval, known as The Park, has been the site of considerable redevelopment recently, with new businesses like the Red Crown restaurant and a forthcoming microbrewery generating excitement.

At press time, it wasn’t known when the city’s new rental ordinance might be up for a vote.

“We don’t want to hurry it because we want to do it right,” said Clark, noting that they’re trying to create an ordinance that will improve conditions in the city without creating an undue burden on landlords. Officials hope to have something new on the books soon.