On March 16, a lawsuit was filed against the City of East Lansing on behalf of Hagan Realty Inc. by the Thomas Moore Society. The suit was filed over the claim that the city was violating the landlords’ First Amendment rights by compelling them to provide new tenants with voter registration information.
After a closed meeting with the city council on March 21, the council unanimously voted 5-0 to suspend the ordinance, freeing East Lansing landlords from the requirement to provide tenants with voter registration. The council acknowledged that voting information can now be found online and that it is not necessary to enforce landlords to provide the information.
“The City Council of the City of East Lansing has determined that the ordinance is not actively enforced by the city and that the form of voter outreach in the ordinance has been largely replaced by online voter initiatives,” said City Attorney Tony Chubb in a statement on March 21. “It is further unnecessary due to changes in state law allowing for same day voting.”
The requirement for landlords to provide voter registration information to new tenants began 10 years ago. Hagan Realty Inc. owner, Matt Hagan, and other local landlords were against the ordinance from the start. Hagan even offered to put the information on the company’s website, rather than giving it to tenants, but the city did not allow it. If landlords did not provide the information they would be fined.
“We said we would be willing to do it voluntarily, we just don’t want to be required to do it and face the penalty,” said Hagan, discussing the offer to have the information on the Hagan Reality website. “That wasn’t sufficient for [the city].”
East Lansing landlords claimed that they should not have to provide this information to tenants, and the government was infringing on their rights. The First Amendment of the Constitution states that ‘Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’
The Thomas Moore Society reached out to Hagan after winning a similar case in Minnesota in 2020, where the federal court declared it was unconstitutional for the government to force landlords to provide new tenants with voter registration.
“This is a blatant violation of landlords’ First Amendment rights,” stated Thomas More Society Special Counsel Erick Kaardal in a news release. “East Lansing is out of line. By its city code, East Lansing may impose penalties for a civil infraction upon landlords if they do not convey the cities’ ideological messages about registering to vote to tenants.”
Once Kaardal reached out to Hagan, he knew that he could have a chance to get rid of the decade-old mandate from the city that he believed was a violation of his rights as a private business owner. Hagan thought that it wasn’t right for the city to push its agenda on private companies in the city and fine them if they did not cooperate.
“From our perspective, this was never about someone’s voting rights or voting information,” said Hagan. “We believe that everyone has the right to vote and should vote, it was more our disagreement with the role that a private business should play in that process.
The City of East Lansing has yet to make any other comments at this time. Chubb has been directed to draft a resolution for the ordinance that will be in effect immediately.