Letter to the editor

East Lansing rental regulations and proposed charter Amendment


(The writer is a longtime East. Lansing resident and real estate agent.)

I’ve been a resident of East Lansing since 1958 when my husband and I moved to East Lansing so he could complete a graduate degree at Michigan State University. I have a personal interest in my city and neighborhood and a professional interest as well as I am a residential real estate broker. My husband and I and our growing family were renters before there were rental regulations and have observed the need and necessity for regulation to ensure the health and safety of tenants as well as the need for “quiet enjoyment” (a real estate term of art), of our own property when we purchased and for that of others whom I helped purchase homes in the City. Rental ordinances that require a license and inspection for the health and safety of the occupants prevent using attics and basements for bedroom purposes without egress windows or other exits to the outside. Licensing standards also require upgrading the rental to modern requirements for electrical and mechanical installations. Hard to believe, a lack of safety in rentals was the norm before regulation. As a student, my husband had lived in a rented attic in the Bailey neighborhood.

A recent letter to City Pulse indicated that East Lansing’s current regulations are “antiquated and systematically discriminatory” and need “reform.”  The author goes on to argue that the city is progressive as long as you believe in a “traditional two-person family.” He attacks rental ordinances and overlay districts as making it difficult to buy a home in East Lansing and appears to support a proposed charter amendment to address housing market problems. He is entitled to his opinion, but I believe he is wrong.

Wage stagnation, restrictive mortgage banking rules regarding housing and mortgage applicants, high interest rates stuck at untenable levels, and few homes for sale. These are market forces beyond the influence of any City Council. There are some mortgages that help make home ownership easier: First Time Homeowner, FHA, MSHDA, and veterans mortgages. But those mortgages also reflect higher interest rates and high monthly payments if the mortgage has little or no downpayment.  All of those pressures make it difficult to create more affordable housing options for renters.

What the city’s housing regulations applicable to rentals are not is antiquated or discriminatory. In fact, they assure that every person can expect a safe living environment. While market forces do make rents higher than, say, in Lansing, we have the fifthth largest university in the nation, and market demand drives rents, not local regulations or inspections.  Our square footage cost for housing is among the lowest in the region, and overall, the central Michigan region housing cost is still among the most affordable in the nation.

The author of the recent letter indicated that the regulations mandate a ‘traditional two- person family.” I don’t know what he means by that, but a family in East Lansing means two unrelated persons and broadly defines family to include many others. A rental license is not required for any household inhabited by those “whose relationship is of a regular and permanent nature and having a distinct domestic character or a demonstrable and recognizable bond.” That definition is the opposite of the traditional two-person family and is anything but discriminatory. It has been operational since the ‘90s, and it works.

I see no reason for a charter amendment at this time, particularly when the Council is considering the entire charter; and the proposed charter amendment incorporates already existing requirements and criminalizes activity that has never been criminal. In addition, the East Lansing City Council, Planning Commission, Housing Commission and the Downtown Development Authority have all been exploring possibilities for more affordable housing for single families.

Elinor M. Holbrook

East Lansing


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