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Former county prosecutor calls for clarity in East Lansing housing code

Carol Siemon stepped down as Ingham County prosecutor at the end of 2022.

As community members are seeking to change East Lansing's housing laws, a former Ingham County prosecutor is asking officials to make the rules easier to understand.

Residents are pushing for a city charter amendment they say would allow long-term guests to live with a homeowner for extended periods.

The group argues East Lansing’s housing code has strict requirements for having "unrelated persons" stay in a home for more than 30 days. They argue that many guests do not fit under the city's definitions for a family or "domestic unit."

The group also points to the city's code, saying that elderly residents may face obstacles to having medical caregivers because of the ordinance's restrictions.

City officials, however, say the group’s claims are misleading. Members of the city council state the city's rules already allow for medical caregivers and guests—and that the proposed amendment would upend the city’s housing regulations.

Some members have gone as far as to accuse the group of spreading "misinformation" and creating "a public health issue" in its campaign.

Carol Siemon, who stepped down as Ingham County prosecutor in 2022, urged the city council Tuesday to make its policies easier to understand. She told the group that one reason she moved out of East Lansing was a lack of clarity over whether she could have a live-in caregiver as she aged.

"It appeared needlessly uncertain about how I could essentially guess what my needs would be, and then hope that the city ordinances wouldn't block me from being able to achieve what I needed," Siemon said.

Siemon called on the council to make its rules more transparent and make its approach to issuing fines more fair for residents.

“I believe that the proposed ordinance amendment is a way to accomplish that, but it may not be the only way,” she said.

Councilmember Mark Meadows acknowledged the former prosecutor's comments. He said he's working with city staff to put its housing rules under one location in the code of ordinances with simple language to define what residents can and cannot do with their homes.

"The objective is to make sure that the entire population of this city has an opportunity to review this and take a look at it and provide input to the council,” he said.

Meadows said he hopes to have an update to the housing code ready for the community to examine in the next couple months.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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