“My background is partially in extremism,” Rep. Emily Dievendorf, D-Lansing, told WKAR News recently while defending legislative proposals supported by a group of progressive lawmakers. Dievendorf is the author and key sponsor of a series of housing bills and ideas that would upend the rental market in Michigan.
This includes rent control and preventing landlords from using criminal background checks for renters. More bills were introduced recently, including:
HB 5235 – Requires housing providers to accept renters on a “first come, first serve” basis (unless legally obligated not to, as in cases of low-income housing).
HB 5237 – The state must provide taxpayer-funded legal services for those filing lawsuits against landlords. Everyone would have access to “brief legal assistance” and anyone under 200% of the poverty line would receive full legal representation in civil litigation against housing providers.
HB 5239 – Landlords must pay relocation assistance equal to three times their monthly rent to any tenant if a health or safety hazard at the property has been caused or allowed its owner.
HB 5240 – Requires property owners to afford the right of first refusal to their tenants or a tenants association. If the tenant or an association offers a price that is at least as favorable as the offer from another purchaser, or at least the appraised value of the property, the landlord would have to sell the property to the tenant or association.
Dievendorf was pressed about policies she has been pushing and supporting. She defended her work:
“As I’m working on housing legislation,” she said, “I knew that I would ... need to not just check on my constituency, but to actually do the public education so that people knew what the state of the housing crisis is right now, what the best practices and proposed solutions are throughout the country, what’s happening in other states and to create that engagement that would increase the demand for our legislators so our legislators across the state knew they had support to pass the policies that I knew that we needed.”
But the policies are out of step with the rest of the country. Most of the ideas floated are rarely found elsewhere. Where similar laws exist, they are rarely (if ever) as strict as what the Michigan bills would require.
Some good news is that in the recent interview, Dievendorf also acknowledged that the housing supply in Michigan is not where it needs to be. Finding ways to increase supply – by zoning and permitting reforms – is a much better idea than imposing even more regulations on landlords and builders.
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