City of Detroit Rental Ordinance

The City of Detroit’s rental ordinance requires the registration and inspection of all rental properties.

The Buildings, Safety Engineering, & Environmental Department (BSEED) is responsible for making sure that all rental properties in the City are properly registered, code compliant, and have a Certificate of Compliance (CoC).

About the Rental Ordinance

The City of Detroit rental ordinance is found in Section 8-15-81 & 82 of the Detroit City Code.

The city’s rental ordinance has been in effect since 1984 but it was amended in October of 2017 with renewed enforcement provisions.

For decades, a policy of non-enforcement of Detroit’s rental ordinance has failed to protect tenants, allowing landlords to operate properties in flagrant violation of basic health and safety codes. Four years after the city promised to boost enforcement, less than 20% of the city’s estimated 87,000 rental structures are registered and about 5% have a CoC.

Unfortunately, it is often up to tenants to enforce their rights under the rental ordinance. Learn how to do this below.

What the Rental Ordinance Requires of Landlords

The City of Detroit’s rental ordinance requires landlords to bring their properties up to code, meet the minimum standards of health and public safety and to keep properties in compliance.

To ensure compliance with the rental ordinance, your landlord must:

  1. Register your property with BSEED Property Maintenance
  2. Schedule and pass a Rental Inspection
  3. Obtain a Lead Clearance (if your unit was build before 1978)
  4. Have no outstanding BSEED fees or Blight Tickets

If your landlord does all of the above, BSEED will issue a Certificate of Compliance (CoC) on the property.

How to Enforce Your Rights Under the Rental Ordinance

  1. Check to see if your property is registered and if it has a CoC. Looking it up online either here or here.
  2. File a rental complaint with BSEED online here, or by calling BSEED Property Maintenance at (313) 224-2733 or 313-628-2451. BSEED will inspect the property (for free) and tell your landlord what they are responsible for fixing, and how long they have to make the necessary repairs. 
  3. If the landlord does not make repairs or obtain a CoC within the time required by BSEED, begin putting your rent in an escrow account, a bank account that offers a legal way to withhold rent. See below and learn more about escrow here

Renters’ Right to Escrow Under the Rental Ordinance

Tenants’ have the right to hold their rent in escrow when a landlord is not upholding their obligation under the rental ordinance.

“it shall be unlawful for an owner to…collect rent from a tenant for occupancy of a rental property, during or for any time in which there is not a valid Certificate of Compliance for the rental property.”

City of Detroit Rental Ordinance
Section 8-15-82(d)

The rental ordinance says:

  • A tenant living in a rental property that lacks a CoC can pay rent into an escrow account.
  • If the owner obtains a CoC within 90 days in which payments are made into the escrow account, the rent in the escrow account shall be paid to the owner.
  • Otherwise the rent in escrow account shall be paid, at the end of 90 days, to the tenant.
  • Thereafter, at the end of every 60 days in which the owner fails to obtain a CoC, the rent in the escrow account shall be paid to the tenant (until the owner obtains a CoC).

You can choose to escrow your rent directly with BSEED or with another 3rd party institution (your bank).

Protecting Yourself Against Retaliation

The rental ordinance (Sec. 8-15-82(d)) states that it is illegal for a landlord to evict a tenant who is attempting to enforce their rights under the ordinance by lawfully withholding their rent in escrow. This would also count as retaliation, which is a legal defense to eviction under Michigan law.

It is important that you keep a paper trail to document the interactions with both your landlord and BSEED. If your landlord were to retaliate against you by filing an eviction case in court, this paper trail will help you prove that you have a legal defense to eviction.

Remember, your landlord cannot evict you on their own. Only a court officer with a signed eviction order by a judge can evict you. For more on illegal eviction, review this resource