Lame Duck Triplett Pushing Landlord-Friendly State Bill
Above: Nathan Triplett and Mark Meadows
ELi has learned—and has confirmed with multiple sources—that East Lansing’s Mayor Nathan Triplett has been pushing a landlord-friendly bill at the State level for many months and that now, since being voted out of office on Tuesday, Triplett has been working with East Lansing landlords to push the bill through quickly.
The law would take power away from the City of East Lansing to regulate certain aspects of landlords’ properties. Triplett received heavy financial support from East Lansing landlords and developers during his failed re-election bid, and also received support from the Chamber of Commerce, which ran attack ads against his successful opponent, Erik Altmann.
Multiple sources, including Councilmember Ruth Beier, tell us that City Manager George Lahanas has been trying to stop Triplett from claiming that leaders of the City of East Lansing support this bill, and that Lahanas has now directed the City’s lobbyist to specifically counter Triplett at the State legislative discussions.
We have not yet reached Lahanas for comment, but Altmann tells us, “This bill would gut the city's ability to improve neighborhoods that have been taken over by student rentals. It's also bad for municipalities across Michigan, because it limits local control even more than it already is.”
Altmann adds, “We need to do everything we can to make clear to state legislators that this bill was not the City's idea, and instead represents the efforts of one rogue official who has been relieved of duty.”
Triplett is in office as our mayor until the evening of November 17, 2015, at which time the newly elected individuals, including Altmann, Shanna Draheim, and Mark Meadows will be sworn in to serve with Councilmembers Beier and Susan Woods. (Woods also received heavy financial support from landlords in her last campaign.) At the November 17 meeting, a new mayor and mayor pro tem will be elected by the new Council from among the five.
The bill in question is number 5041 and is set to take away local control of certain aspects of rental property zoning specifically applying to rental properties called “nonconforming,” which are single-family homes that were once owner-occupied but have now been turned into rental properties.
Right now, the City of East Lansing has in place ordinances that prohibit landlords from doing certain types of upgrades. The intention behind these restrictions has been to stop traditionally owner-occupied neighborhoods like Bailey and Oakwood from becoming large rental zones of houses.
The landlords have said that the restrictions have caused their properties to unnecessarily degrade and become less desirable to trustworthy renters, thus also keeping the properties’ taxable values lower than they should be, which in turn hurts the City’s bottom line. The City has held discussions between landlords and homeowners in the neighborhoods on this issue to try to find some resolution. (I was an Oakwood neighborhood representative to these discussions, along with Mark Meadows, who was a Housing Commission representative in this group.)
Among those testifying at the State level in support of the bill the day after this week’s election were Matt Hagan of Hagan Realty, a major landlord in town (see testimony), and Mark Fisk, who owns rental properties in Oakwood and is President of the Glencairn Neighborhood Association.
Mark Meadows, also just elected to City Council, tells us, "The City has publicly opposed the bill at the hearing held earlier this week. While the bill ostensibly is designed to merely allow landlords to make improvements to their properties without losing grandfathered density, it actually goes far beyond that objective and strips local governments of their right to address elimination of non conforming uses in certain circumstances. The bill was represented as only applying to East Lansing, which is false and two prominent East Lansing landlords testified in support of the bill. The Township Association testified in opposition."
Meadows is a former Mayor of East Lansing and our former Representative to the Michigan House of Representatives and is considered a front-runner for the next mayorship of East Lansing. He notes that on this bill, the Michigan Muncipal League, which represents cities in Michigan and of which Triplett was just named President, "was silent" on the bill. The League usually is in favor of protecting local control.
Says Meadows, "The stated objective of the bill, improvement of rental property without loss of grandfathered density, was widely supported by the members of the non-conforming use committee I served on and an ordinance amendment to accomplish this is in order." (Meadows was a representative to the same committee I mentioned above, the one on which I also served.) "But, I am completely opposed to this statutory approach which is an avoidance of the community process and a direct attack on local control."
We are tracking this story and will continue to provide information as we can confirm it.
Want to understand more about the rental nonconforming issue? Read this earlier ELi report.
[Update, November 6, 1 pm: One correct was fixed and we added a clarification about which committee Meadows was referring to. On November 8, 11:20 a.m., we corrected Mark Meadows' role on the rental nonconforming committee; he was a representative for the Housing Commission, not the Bailey neighborhood, where he then lived.]
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