JACKSON, Mich. — A lawsuit against the city of Jackson’s rental property ordinance will continue on, and some landlords claim the way the city enforces it violates the Constitution.
In the complaint filed in May, attorney John Toivonen argued that the city has been unlawfully collecting rental inspection fees.
“They were actually charging fees for people who were refusing searches where there wasn’t even a search warrant issued,” he said.
The complaint says the city assessed owners a $255 penalty in the form of a no-show fee from people who wanted a search warrant prior to a property search. Toivonen claims that under the ordinance the city collected $4.7 million in unlawful fees.
“It’s worth noting that the unjust enrichment claim did survive,” he said. “That’s when a party takes monies that are not lawfully supposed to be that parties. That claim survived as well. I think that’s significant, and I think just to reiterate the fact that these individual defendants are still open to liability is a really tremendous development for the plaintiffs.”
According to Toivonen, a judge recently ruled that city employees who enforced the rental code don’t have governmental immunity.
“We believe the judge saw some of these claims they should have been aware of what they were doing is illegal,” he said. “That’s why it survives, and it’s very rare that the governmental immunity is pierced. Typically, they are protected by that.”
For the city, the purpose of this ordinance is to ensure all rental properties are registered and inspected, are safe and secure and that there are sanitary living conditions.
They said several of the plaintiff’s claims were dismissed, but the court ruled a portion of the claims were sufficiently pled to survive initial dismissal and will now proceed to discovery.
“The court did not make a determination on the issue of individual immunity for city representatives nor on the validity of the city’s non-owner occupied residential property registry ordinance. Changes have been made to the ordinance over the years to better service the citizens of Jackson and its property owners. The amendments don’t reflect an intent to avoid liability as has been previously challenged and upheld as constitutional,” said the city of Jackson in a written statement.
According to the city, the recent opinion issues by the judge was in response to a motion to dismiss, which was filed by the city. The motion sought dismissal of the claim based on the allegations of the complaint. They say, as a result, the nature of the motion restrained what evidence could be considered by the court.
So, the lawsuit will continue forward. City officials are confident their actions will be upheld and the claims dismissed.
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