Kent and landlords settle dispute over the city’s recent rental inspection law

Single-family housing in Kent. Google image

The City of Kent and a group of Kent landlords and tenants have reached a settlement in a legal dispute over a residential rental inspections law that the plaintiffs said amounted to an invasion of privacy.

Kent landlords Bernie Noble and Michael Shrigley, Noble’s tenants, and Marketplace Rentals sued Kent in February 2021 over the law, which requires landlords to license their residential rental units, pay biennial licensing fees, and allow the city’s Community Development Department to inspect each unit every other year. Failure to comply results in fees ranging from $100 to $1,000, with multipliers depending on various factors.

The plaintiffs challenged the licensing code as unconstitutional, and Noble refused to let city inspectors enter his properties.

Noble, his tenants, Shrigley, and Marketplace Rentals alleged that the licensing code threatens them with inspections of their homes without probable cause, violates their reasonable expectation of privacy, and retaliates against them by assessing fines for not scheduling inspections, and by threatening them with condemnation and possible loss of their homes.

In the Sept. 6 settlement, the city agreed not to inspect the homes or apartments of Noble’s long-term tenants. However, once those tenants change, those properties will be subject to “inspections, licensing fees and everything else,” the agreement states.

Noble agreed to pay the biennial licensing fees, with the city waiving one year of those fees for his Dodge Street, Mogadore Road and Lake Street properties. The city also absolved him of any current, outstanding or accrued civil offense fees.

Noble said he settled “reluctantly” because he really wanted to go to court and have the inspection ordinance nullified citywide.

“We got everything we wanted, me and my tenants, but it wasn’t court ordered,” he said. “It was ‘Let’s Make a Deal.’”

Regarding the invasion of privacy aspect, “In my case, they’re not going to come in unless they have a warrant.”

Marketplace Rentals agreed to comply with the city’s rental registration ordinance, including registering, inspecting and licensing all its rental properties

Marketplace Rentals agreed to let the city health department conduct annual inspections of its rental properties, though the company may choose instead that the Community Development Department do the inspections instead. Such a decision could not be reversed at a future date.

The city agreed to issue zoning use certificates authorizing Marketplace Rentals’ 12 properties on South Lincoln Street, Mae Street, Morris Road, East School Street and Sherman Street to operate as rooming houses.

As such, each dwelling unit may contain no more than three unrelated people so long as the unit contains at least three bedrooms and complies with all other building and zoning code requirements.

Kent agreed to refund Marketplace Rentals $6,000 of the $12,915 the company has paid for the civil offenses that were the basis of the lawsuit, and to extend to Marketplace Rentals a $7,000 credit toward future registration fees. The city also agreed to absolve Marketplace Rentals of any additional civil offense fees, current, outstanding or accrued.

Marketplace Rentals and the city agreed to a nondisclosure agreement stipulating that they not publicly discuss the settlement terms.

Shrigley, who owns two rental properties on Lake Street, agreed to abide by the city’s rental registration ordinance, “including the registration, inspection and licensing” of all the rental properties he owns, manages or controls.

The city will waive one year of registration fees for Shrigley’s those properties.

As with Noble, the city agreed not to inspect the homes or apartments of Shrigley’s long-term tenants unless those tenants move. The city also agreed to absolve Shrigley of civil offense fees.

All the plaintiffs agreed to dismiss their complaints and requests for permanent injunction against the City of Kent.

Neither Shrigley nor Ravenna attorney Chad Murdock, who represented Noble and Marketplace Rentals, could be reached for comment.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.

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