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Operation Compliance

Business Closures for Enforcement
The City of Detroit Buildings, Safety Engineering & Environmental Department (BSEED) launched “Operation Compliance” in the fall of 2012 as an initiative to increase enforcement of city zoning ordinances and city property maintenance code in commercial districts around the city. To date, 898 businesses have been notified that their business would be padlocked if violations were not corrected. There have been 383 businesses that were unresponsive and were closed. Building owners and tenants,totaling 355, have received guidance from the department’s Property Maintenance Division to come into compliance with the law and 536 businesses are in the process of coming into compliance.

Legal Use of Property
Each parcel of property in the city is regulated by zoning districts that define the type of activities that can occur in that particular area, e.g. B3 for Shopping District or R1 for Single Family Residential District or M1 for Limited Industrial District. City of Detroit zoning classifications are posted on the city website on the City Planning Commission pages. 

Prior to establishing a business, an occupancy permit is required. If a use changes, the new use must go through the building permit process for a change of occupancy. The new use is then reviewed for compliance with the zoning ordinance and applicable building codes before a permit is issued. In some cases a public hearing may be required before a land use can be considered.

“There have been incidences where an unsuspecting business owner purchases a property that previously housed an illegal business. There is an assumption made by the purchaser that the seller has obtained all required land use approvals,” explains Tonja Stapleton, Manager of BSEED Zoning Division. “To avoid this we recommend small business owners request a zoning verification letter and zoning clearance check prior to entering into a lease or purchase agreement for commercial property.”

Trending toward Success
When Operation Compliance began, the department identified 1500 businesses that were operating illegally per zoning. Notice letters were mailed and/or delivered in person. If no response was received the BSEED inspectors, accompanied by a Detroit Police Officer, would visit the business to shut it down and seal the door. Business and property owners are encouraged to come to the City-County Building to meet with inspectors and determine a pathway to compliance.

“Although Operation Compliance appears tough on small business owners, this initiative is working to gain the attention of business and property owners and to educate the community that unsafe and unsightly businesses have a negative impact on our neighborhoods,” states David Bell, BSEED Interim Director. “A properly zoned and licensed business, physically maintained according to city ordinances is well positioned for their own interests as well as for those of the community.”

For more information about BSEED initiatives and code compliance, contact Helen Broughton, Business Advocate II, at 313-628-2459 or