New Jackson ordinance protects displaced rental tenants

Many of our communities have ordinances that require periodic inspection and certification of rental residential properties. Because people who live in rented homes often have little control over the physical condition of the structure they live in, these ordinances protect the health and safety of these residents, as well as protecting neighborhoods from blight caused by landlords who aren’t paying attention to their properties.

These rental inspection ordinances can also create problems for rental tenants, though: if the municipality finds a landlord has not kept up their rental property, rendering the home unfit for occupancy, the tenants may find themselves evicted through no fault of their own. (This concern also came up last year when Detroit attempted to increase compliance with their rental certification ordinance.)

The city of Jackson is addressing this potential downside with their new Rental Assistance for Displaced Tenants Ordinance, which took effect in March of 2019. As the city explains:

Under the new ordinance, if City inspectors find serious code violations that make the housing unsafe for tenants to live in, the unit is vacated, and the landlord has to pay for relocation assistance for the displaced tenants. …

Over the past year, the City has seen an increase in renters being displaced due to unsafe living conditions at no fault of their own. This is usually due to a long list of violations at each location, such as exposed electrical wiring, unsanitary conditions, or no access to heat. Being abruptly vacated from housing is known to create financial hardships for tenants and may result in homelessness.

The ordinance came in response to cases where the city had to post rental properties as uninhabitable, and attempted to secure replacement housing for the tenants–the city found itself paying for the landlord’s failure to maintain their properties, with no mechanism for recovering those costs. The ordinance also includes exemptions, such as if the city’s building official finds that the triggering code violations were caused by the tenant.

Jackson’s new ordinance has only been in effect for a few months, so it’s too early to evaluate its success, but it is worth tracking as an innovative approach to protecting vulnerable residents and neighborhoods from “bad apple” landlords.