Nearly 20% of Michigan renters will face the threat of eviction this year. In a state with over 1 million renters, this leaves about 200,000 citizens at risk of losing their homes. But there is legislation in the works to try to solve this.
In 2022, Ann Arbor, a city where over half the households are renters, passed Section 8:531 of the housing code, the right to renew. This law requires Ann Arbor landlords make a “good faith” offer to renew a lease 180 days before a tenant’s lease is up.
Relocation is expensive and time consuming. Apartment hunting, packing, cleaning, along with security deposits and first- and last-month rent payments add up fast. If a tenant is offered an opportunity to renew, this can save them from being placed farther back financially. However, Ann Arbor’s right to renew law is limited in power because Michigan does not restrict rent increases.
“Landlords are the ones with power in our communities, they can raise the rent as much as they want,” said State Rep. Carrie Rheingans, D-47th .
To combat this, Rheingans, with the support of 13 other representatives, introduced House Bill 4946 last month. The bill would end Michigan’s 35-year ban on rent control.
In July 1988, the Michigan General Assembly forbade local governments from regulating rent after Detroit and other cities attempted to pass local ordinances. Proponents of the ban at the time said rent control ordinances discourage new developments and create housing shortages.
While HB 4946 wouldn’t force any city to implement rent stabilization policies, there are several cities with intention to do so. Ann Arbor, Detroit and Pontiac city councils have all passed resolutions asking for the preemption disallowing rent control to be removed.
“It would allow municipalities to create a policy that might work best for their community,” Rheingans said. “It doesn’t force any municipality to do this, it just gives them the ability if they so choose.”
But Rheingans says these policies may not be necessary if another issue is solved first.
“We won’t need any sort of rent stabilization in Ann Arbor if we build enough housing that it stabilizes the market in and of itself,” she said.
Currently there is not enough housing in Ann Arbor to fulfill the need, meaning many who work in the city are forced to commute from neighboring areas, Rheingans said. This gives landlords an opportunity to raise rent above what is feasible for the average tenant. The idea is if more houses are built, landlords will be forced to compete with one another, allowing more stable rates.
“There is an imbalance of power between a tenant and a landlord, and I think it’s important to make sure we’re protecting those who have less power in these power dynamic situations, the renters,” Rheingans said.
But rent stabilization isn’t the entire solution.
“We can’t develop or build our way out of this, we have to work on parallel tracks,” said Lisa Chapman, Public Policy Director of the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness.
One of those tracks being built currently is protections for sources of income considered in rental applications.
“Right now, landlords can say I won’t accept your voucher or Section 8. I won’t take vouchers, period,” Chapman said. “And they won’t rent to you or consider that voucher a part of your lawful income.”
There are 24 forms of so-called “non-wage income” that advocates are trying to protect. In addition to housing vouchers, child support, alimony, social security income and rental assistance can be denied as a source of income on a landlord’s rental application.
“Housing vouchers were built to allow tenants to move into higher opportunity areas,” said Ashley Heidenrich, the public policy intern for the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness. “What we’re finding in practice is landlords in higher opportunity areas aren’t accepting the vouchers, keeping these tenants in areas with higher instances of poverty, defeating the purpose the vouchers were designed for.”
Denying these sources of income doesn’t just impact renting ability, it’s also indicative of a larger issue, Heidenrich said. .
“Housing voucher discrimination serves as a proxy for racial discrimination, we often see, and these protections will be another way to start chipping away at this huge problem of racial discrimination in housing,” she said.
Although non-wage income is lawful and legitimate, it has been a battle to get these protections passed, Heidenrich said.
But the Coalition is hopeful.
“There are about 20 states with source-of-income protection, Illinois being the most recent one. It took them over twenty years to get it passed,” Chapman said. “Ours was first introduced in around 2018 and we’re hopeful it won’t take quite that long.”
The Right to Renew, HB 4947, and source-of-income protections are only the beginning of a raft of recent legislation in the works surrounding building a better reality for renters, including a Tenant’s Bill of Rights, led by State Rep. Emily Dievendorf, D-77th, and efforts to expunge old or failed eviction cases from tenants’ records.
Advocates believe it’s a sign that the power dynamic between landlords and renters is shifting.
“This is the first time in forty years that Michigan has a Democratic trifecta, in both our (House and Senate) chambers and our executive office,” Chapman said. “So we have a lot of pent-up demand for passing some of these bills and changing these laws.”
These efforts move Michigan along the path of creating an affordable livelihood for their renters, something that positively impacts renters and homeowners alike, Rheingans said.
“The city of Ann Arbor is more than half renters, we are an important part of our community. We are all community members trying to live here together, build our families, contribute to our communities,” she said. “Less stress about unfair rental laws allows for more time to build a better community.”
This piece was done in conjunction with journalism students taught by Heloisa Sturm Wilkerson (PhD, University of Texas at Austin) Assistant Professor of Journalism in the Communication Department of Purdue University Fort Wayne.
This content is distributed in a partnership between Purdue University Fort Wayne and the Fort Wayne Media Collaborative, a group of media outlets and educational institutions in Fort Wayne committed to solutions-oriented reporting. More information is available at fwmediacollaborative.com