Dearborn to amend ordinance on "garage living rooms" due to safety issues
By Samer Hijazi | Friday, 03.08.2013, 05:02 AM

DEARBORN — The city will soon be amending an ordinance regarding a current trend that many Arab American residents have been following: using their garage as a family room, sitting area, or bedroom, which the city cites as a zoning violation.
While the practice might have been occurring for a while longer, the city began cracking down on this issue about a year ago. Misdemeanor tickets amounting to $500 or more have been issued to several residential homes under these zoning violations. According to Mary Laundroche, the Director of Public Information, if a garage is not suited to park a vehicle, then residents can be cited.
"The way a garage is made is not the same way a house is made. The way ordinance stands now, a garage must be used for a car. So if people have made improvements in their garages and it doesn't allow a car to be parked, then they have to work with the Residential Service Department to get that rectified," Laundroche stated. "People's safety is our number one concern here."
Some of the improvements Laundroche may be referring to includes putting couches, tables, TV's and ovens in the garage. Many residents have also included glass doors for easier accessibility into their garage. This has become a common practice for many households, but what people might not know is that it can be a safety hazard. Last year, one garage reportedly caught on fire after a woman cooked inside of it.
Many garages in Dearborn have sliding glass doors, which the city says is a safety hazzard.
The city cites the violations under ordinance 2.03-A, "Accessory buildings and structures," which  details the specifics regarding usage and equipments in accessory buildings. Under "use of accessory structures," it clearly states that "both attached and detached accessory buildings shall not be used as dwelling units (except for permitted accessory structures) or for any business, profession, trade or occupation." The city describes an accessory building as a garage or shed.
However, some confusion might arise from further passages. Under section 2.03-B, titled "Attached accessory building," a garage that is attached to a home is considered "part of the principal building," which some might interpret means all ordinances that apply to their house will also apply to their attached garage. The city is currently working on amending the entire section to make the laws more clear.
Local Attorney Susan Dabaja, of  Farhat & Associates, PLLC says she's currently working on a case with a client who was ticketed for their garage. The case, along with several other cases regarding the same issue, have been pending at the 19th District Court as the Department of Residential Services and the city's legal department work through revising the ordinance.
"The serious concern the city is having is when they have ovens, stoves or heating units inside the garage which can be a fire hazard," Dabaja stated. "My understanding is ordinance is being reviewed and that changes are being made to reflect what the city will allow residents to do in their garages and what kind of functions they can serve."
Another major issue stemming from these specialized garages is that they may leave no room to park vehicles. Many residents in Dearborn now have three or more cars per household, and if the garage is being occupied with couches and TV's, that would mean a car would have to be parked on the driveway or in the street.
Parked vehicles in the city’s neighborhood’s, especially on the east side, seem to be an increasing problem. More cars parked on the street of congested neighborhoods can in turn become a neighborhood quality of life issue.  It may impact access for emergency vehicles as they travel down congested side streets.
Last December the police department issued 580 tickets to parked vehicles during a snow storm emergency, when residents were warned to remove their vehicles from the streets for plowing trucks to drive through. After citations were given out to those who didn't comply, many residents complained that they had no choice but to park in the streets because there was no room in their garage or on their driveway.
But turning a garage into a living space seems to not only be a problem in Dearborn. For Dearborn Heights, not only is it a safety hazard, but sometimes it even becomes a disturbing the peace issue. Most garages in the city are attached to the house and located in the front near the driveway, as opposed to the back of the house like many homes in Dearborn. 
Dearborn Heights resident Renee Hadi says she almost contacted the police when neighbors who lived a few houses down were being too loud in their garage one summer night, and plenty of other neighbors have expressed their dismay as well   
"There are so many families in Dearborn and Dearborn Heights who have turned their garages into a resort. When one family adds a plasma TV in their garage, then another wants to do the same. People begin to show off and try to compete with each other in order to have the best garage on the street. It's becoming ridiculous and an occurring disturbance. People should not be having gatherings inside of their garages and smoking argelehs, that's what a living room or backyard is for," Hadi says.
In March 2012, Nicolas E. Siroskey, the Director of the Residential Services Department in Dearborn sent a letter to 44 residential homes who were cited regarding illegal use of their garage. One important issue he touched upon was the ongoing trend of residents who were building sliding glass doors in their garages in place of overhead garage doors. Residents were warned to correct the hazardous issues as soon as possible. 
A draft of the new ordinance has already been compiled and is expected to be reviewed and finalized by the city planning commission as early as April. For more questions regarding zoning or building codes, residents can call the city's Residential Services Department at 313.943.2150.  

By Samer Hijazi

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