Jan. 30 2013 12:00 AM

Proposed EL ordinance would require landlords to distribute voter registration information to tenants

Some East Lansing landlords are balking at a proposal to require them to give tenants more than just keys. 

At a Jan. 15 East Lansing City Council meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Nathan Triplett proposed an ordinance that would require landlords to distribute voter registration information to tenants when they move in.

Triplett said the goal of the ordinance would be to get voter registration information to off-campus students who are not targeted by on-campus voter registration drives. The proposed ordinance will be discussed at a public hearing on Tuesday. 

“There are systematized voter registration efforts on campus that register a large number of on-campus students. There’s no comparable program for off-campus students in rental houses,” Triplett said. “As a result, these tenants are not nearly as likely to register or keep their information up to date because they don’t have access to the same sort of concentrated effort.”

Triplett said the information that landlords would dole out would include basic information about voter registration and voting. He called it a “question and answer” type document that would tell people how to register to vote, where they can vote and how to change where they’re registered. 

Triplett knows that landlords might have reservations about having to pass out additional information to tenants, and several have come out in opposition to the ordinance already. 

“Clearly there’s some concern about the potential burden on landlords. We did have three landlords come and say they were opposed for that reason,” Triplett said. He added that the city and the Clerk’s Office were prepared to “do everything in their power to make compliance easy.” 

“The city would be responsible for the information,” meaning the landlord’s only task would be distribution.

“They can tailor it to their own process,” Triplett said. “The minimal burden that might be created is outweighed by the considerable benefit.”

But Jon Addiss, a landlord for over 30 years, scoffed at the notion of making landlords responsible for giving tenants information about voting.  

“Who came up with this brilliant idea? Why don’t they just include adoption papers too?” questioned Addiss, who is also the treasurer of the Landlords of Mid-Michigan, a nonprofit association. “The landlord has to be the parent for these kids too? At what point do we treat these young people like adults? They’re 18, they can sign legal documents, they’re adults.”

Addiss said Landlords of Mid-Michigan hadn’t discussed the ordinance as a group, but he was sure there would be concerns brought up about it at their next meeting in mid-February. 

Addiss said he doesn’t believe the ordinance would be a huge burden on landlords. But he said voter registration information has nothing to do with the landlord-tenant relationship, so mandating landlords to give the information is unwarranted.

Area clerks had mixed feelings about the proposal. 

Chris Swope of Lansing and Brett Dreyfus of Meridian Township said they would be willing to look into a similar program for their jurisdictions.

However, Swope said making it an ordinance might be too aggressive. He said asking landlords to do it voluntarily might be an easier first step, rather than requiring it through an ordinance. 

“Anytime you can get voter registration information quickly into someone’s hands, that’s a benefit,” Swope said.

Dreyfus agreed, calling it  “an innovative proposition worth examining more closely.” 

“I would be very interested in getting feedback from landlords to find out the impact the proposal would have on them and how they do business. I’m sure there would be some concerns that it would create additional burdens.”

East Lansing Clerk Marie McKenna didn’t offer an opinion on whether landlords should have to give tenants voter information, saying she would of course implement it if City Council approved it.