Editor’s note: On Friday, reporter Todd Heywood sent Randy Hannan, who is Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero’s spokesman, and Bob Johnson, director of the Planning and Neighborhood Department, 11 questions about this story, with the request that they respond by noon Monday.
(Here are Heywood’s questions:
1. Is it normal for a zoning violation complaint to take so long for action to be taken?
2. Please provide the average length of time from zoning violation complaint to issuance of notification.
3. Please provide the average length of time from violation notification to civil action by the city.
4. What specifically caused the delays in this case, as the evidence provided by the city clearly shows a violation was documented on May 21 of this year, but notification was not sent until Oct. 5?
5. What actions has the city taken since the Oct. 5 letter of notification of violation to enforce the city's ordinance related to home occupation businesses?
6. Is the significant delay between identification of the violation, and documentation of it, and issuance of notification of violation the result of understaffing in the zoning office?
7. How many staff are currently employed by the city to investigate and handle zoning violations? Do these employees have additional responsibilities in addition to this responsibility? If so what are those responsibilities?
8. How many positions in zoning have been eliminated through budget cuts since Mayor Bernero was first elected to office as Mayor?
9 Are there any policy or procedural fixes that are necessary and identified as a result of this situation? If so, please explain what those problems are and what the administration is doing to address those.
10. As I noted, Clerk Swope did hire this company to perform moving services for the city. He was unaware that moving companies need to be licensed in Michigan to perform those services, and said his office conducted no background check on the company before hiring them. He said background checks were unnecessary because the contract did not rise the $15,000 thresh hold in purchasing. Is this is a policy issue? Should all contractors of the city of Lansing, regardless of the size of the contract, be subjected to licensing and criminal background checks, as well as verification that city taxes are being paid? Why or why not?
11. The residence where this operation is happening is being purchased by Mr. Burnham on Land Contract. However, the actual contract is not on file with either the Register of Deeds or the City Assessor office -- and in fact, the city assessor's office does not reflect a land contract has been granted on the property at all. As you are aware, city ordinance requires the land contract itself to be registered with the county, not just a notification of land contract, as Mr. Burnham currently has on file. Mr. Burnham was warned through Code Compliance, of his failure to register the property as a rental or comply. However, publicly available records show that he was allegedly in compliance, despite the fact that actual land contract is not on file with the county. Does this point to an issue with enforcement of the city's rental registration program and legal requirements related to land contracts? Why or why not?
What follows is Hannan’s answer, which arrived Tuesday afternoon, in its entirely.
“Todd, once again you have requested responses to detailed and very complex questions on a completely unreasonable timeline, so I will forego any apology for our delay in answering your inquiry and for any questions we have not yet answered while we continue to research your issues.
“As to the substance of your concerns, please note that there are at least two separate issues at play that relate to the use of the property in question. The first is an unregistered rental complaint, which was addressed by Code Compliance in a Failure to Register notice sent to the property owner on May 23, 2015 with a requested compliance date of June 20, 2015. On June 22, 2015 Code Compliance sent the property owner a Failure to Comply notice with a July 22, 2015 compliance date. When the matter was not resolved by the property owner by that deadline, Code Compliance sent a Lack of Certificate notice on July 28, 2015 for failure to register the property as a rental with a compliance date of August 27, 2015. After the final violation notice was sent, the property owner provided Code Compliance with the Memorandum of Land Contract, which as you know was filed with the county Register of Deeds on August 3, 2015. The land contract memo is considered by Code Compliance as sufficient proof that the property is not a rental.
“In addition, it would appear that you are misreading the relevant city ordinance (1460.44e), which does not, in fact, require land contracts to be filed with the county or the city. The code of ordinances makes reference to land contracts that are filed with the county, but does not mandate it. Furthermore, according to the county Register of Deeds, there is no legal requirement in state law that land contracts or deeds must be filed with the county or the city. It is also worth noting that this section of the code of ordinances applies only to “any rental dwelling or unit required to be registered under this section.” There is no evidence in city records to suggest that the property in question is now, or ever was, a rental.
“The second issue is a zoning violation complaint, which the Zoning Administrator addressed by sending a warning letter to the property owner on October 5, which will be followed by an ordinance violation citation and, if needed, a request for court-ordered compliance. For some unknown reason, you conflate the unregistered rental issue with the zoning violation complaint and suggest that the city did not follow up on the unregistered rental complaint that was received in May until the Zoning Administrator took action in October. As evidenced by the Code Compliance actions outlined above, this is simply not the case. The photos that you cite, which were taken by Code Compliance in May as part of their investigation of the alleged unregistered rental, were provided to the Zoning Administrator for use in her investigation of the alleged zoning violation.
“As to your concerns about the qualifications of city contractors, we continue to evaluate and improve the city’s policies and procedures for selecting contract vendors and will certainly consider your suggestions in that context.”