Detroit City Council weighs ordinance to ban evictions without ‘just cause’

In most cities, once a lease expires, landlords can remove a tenant for almost any reason

click to enlarge Detroit City Council is weighing an ordinance to bar landlords from evicting tenants without just cause. -
Detroit City Council is weighing an ordinance to bar landlords from evicting tenants without just cause.
Detroit City Council will soon consider a new ordinance that would prevent landlords from evicting tenants unless there is “just cause,” but some housing rights advocates say it doesn’t go far enough.

In Detroit and most cities, once a lease expires, landlords can remove a tenant without giving a reason.

Councilman Coleman A. Young II wants to change that in Detroit, where thousands of people are evicted every year without cause. The idea, he says, is to give tenants a greater sense of housing security.

“During the pandemic, 28%-33% of the evictions were based on no cause,” Young tells Metro Times. “After the lease expires, they can just terminate their tenancy. I thought that was wrong.”

Under Young’s proposed ordinance, a landlord could only evict a tenant for a legitimate cause, such as unpaid rent, lease violations, or damage to the premises.

“Just cause” ordinances in four California cities lowered eviction rates between 2000 and 2016, according to a Princeton University study.

“These results suggest that just cause eviction ordinances have a significant and noticeable effect on eviction and eviction filing rates,” the researchers concluded. “Given the budget limitations of many states and municipalities to fund other solutions to the eviction crisis, passage of just cause eviction ordinances appears to be a relatively low-cost, effective policy solution.”

Similar ordinances exist in Ann Arbor, Birmingham, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. A few states — New Jersey, California, and Oregon — also have “just cause” eviction laws.

But in many of those places, the legislation goes a step further — it guarantees tenants’ right to renew their lease.

The Detroit Tenants Association, a citywide group fighting on behalf of renters, has been advocating for a “right to renew” ordinance and recently launched a petition drive to urge the council to take up the issue.

The group says a “just cause” ordinance is not enough to protect tenants.

“Under a ‘just cause’ ordinance alone, tenants who are not currently in a term lease contract with a designated rent amount (at-will tenants) may still be legally priced out and abruptly displaced,” the Detroit Tenants Association said in a news release Monday. “Because the state of Michigan has had a statewide ban on rent control since 1988, these tenants are vulnerable to unregulated, and often steep, rent increases – a precarious situation in which ‘at-will’ tenants are at risk of being priced out and displaced at any time. A ‘just cause’ ordinance without a ‘right to renew’ would provide landlords a legal loophole that could easily be exploited, further contributing to displacement and community destabilization.”

Young says the group “has a good point” and that his ordinance is likely just a first step. Council President Mary Sheffield is considering a “right to renew” ordinance, he says.

“I think this is something that will take care of itself in the long run,” Young says. “I would like to sit down with [the Detroit Tenants Association] and see if we can bounce ideas off each other and make the ordinance stronger.”

Young says the “just cause” ordinance likely would have prevented the eviction of Taura Brown, a terminally ill Black woman who was forcibly removed from her tiny home in April. The landlord, Cass Community Social Services, waited until Brown’s lease expired to evict her, even though she had paid her rent on time.

Brown received a new kidney earlier this month.

The “just cause” ordinance is the latest action the council has taken to expand tenant protections. In May 2022, the council unanimously passed a “right to counsel” measure to provide lower-income residents with free legal representation when facing eviction.

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About The Author

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling is an award-winning investigative journalist who operated Motor City Muckraker, an online news site devoted to exposing abuses of power and holding public officials accountable. Neavling also hosted Muckraker Report on 910AM from September 2017 to July 2018. Before launching Motor City Muckraker,...
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