News Story

Most Cities Require Rental Registrations – This One Gets Personal

Warren strikes out at landlord refusing to submit driver’s license number of herself and tenants

In most Michigan cities, homeowners who want to rent out a house must register with the local government. But in Warren, the city requires driver’s license numbers from owners and renters – something which raises privacy worries and concerns about unnecessary documentation.

Catherine Bott is the president of Service Specialties II Property Management, which manages rental properties in metro Detroit. She’s been in the business for 40 years and refuses to provide her personal driver’s license information or that of her tenants. For several years, Warren has allowed her continue managing rentals, but after she didn’t comply with a recent request for this information, city officials rejected her registration applications.

Bott is worried about her privacy and personal information becoming part of the public record, and she doesn’t want to give up unnecessarily any personal information.

“I have a business address and a real estate license to manage properties. Why does Warren need extra personal information as well?” Bott asked.

As a result, the city has gone after her and her tenants. The city rejected her company’s application on the grounds of “a lack of personal information” and considers her out of compliance. She received a notice to appear in court. The city also says that one of her tenants is violating an ordinance by living in one of her properties, and has sent a letter stating that to the tenant.

Ethan Vinson, a city attorney, told Bott in a letter, “There is a legitimate city interest in requesting the information sought ... in part, to assist the city in enforcement proceedings if they should become necessary. By your failing to fully complete the application, it was properly rejected and returned to you. Your applications remain incomplete.”

City officials did not respond to a request for comment.

The Michigan Association of Realtors issued a memo, which Bott passed along to the city objecting to the requirement. The association said, “A property manager’s name, address and phone number provide a municipality with enough information to contact the property owner and property manager or reach one or the other as resident agent for service of process. By contrast, a property manager’s date of birth and driver’s license number does not aid in these objections. Moreover, misuse or disclosure could expose the property manager to harm, including identity theft and a variety of cybercrimes.”

Bott said that cities already have business and rental information about people and requiring the extra information is an unnecessary invasion of privacy.

“Rental real estate is a business. I wonder if Warren requires the driver’s license number of the owner of National Coney Island or Target stores,” Bott said. “Can you imagine telling Meijer customers that the owner of Meijer’s won’t give a government entity their driver’s license number so you can’t shop there?”