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Detroit landlord's tax scam jeopardizes housing for tenents

A 69-year-old woman who lives on Mansfield, Michigan, is angry with landlords who accept money from state and federal programs to cover rent for poor people, yet fail to pay for city taxes. According to the woman, she paid $2,100 to the city of Detroit last year on a home that she owns on the westside of the city and says such practices from unscrupulous landlords are just not fair.

According to an investigation by Detroit News, at least $5 million in back taxes are owed to the city of Detroit by landlords who receive money to rent to poor families through Michigan's Housing Choice Voucher program. That report goes so far as to say that 1 in 4 Detroit area landlords aren't paying city taxes.

The report highlights the story of one Detroit landlord's sketchy business practices over a period of five years. According to the report, the man received nearly $40,000 in government money intended to offset the housing costs of needy families, yet he failed to make even one tax payment to the city. Then, after the city foreclosed on the home for back taxes, the man simply repurchased it at a property auction for $600, and the cycle began anew with a clean slate.

What happens to tenants that pay their rent, but the landlord fails to pay the city taxes on the home? A Barlow Street resident wondered that after she received yet another letter from the city warning of an impending tax foreclosure on the home where she lives. Her home could now be sold at auction this fall, despite the fact that she pays her rent.

Tenants who are paying rent have a right to feel secure in their homes even if they are receiving help from a state or federal agency for rent. Landlords who imperil the housing of their residents by failing to pay taxes may be in violation of the law, the current residential lease agreement made with the tenant or both. Tenants should know that certain legal protections may extend to them in these types of situations.

Source: The Detroit News, "Detroit landlords cash in on rent aid, ignore tax bills." Christine Macdonald, Mar. 28, 2014

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