As the economy oí poor and working dass people continúes to worsen, Ypsilanti landlords may soon find themselves in jail for up to ninety days for illegally refusing to return security deposits. The criminal penalty, designed to supersede the civil law, is part of an HRP-sponsored Tenant Rights Act in the Ypsilanti city council. The ordinance stipulates 90 dayS500 fine maximum penal ties for a variety of common strong-arm tactics. including evicting tenants without a court order, using physical forcé or changing the locks. Landlords have rallied against the proposed law but, pressured by constituents, the city council is expected to pass it anyway. The condition is that supporters will have to accept an amendment adding criminal penalties for tenant offenses. If council rejects the bilí or tries to outlaw rent strikes with it. however, the HRP has threatened to launch a petition drive to put it on the April ballot. Since only 356 signatures are required, the ordinance should be easy to put before the voters. In light of the housing situation. it should have good chance of passage. "The situation is really drastic." says Betty Renfroe, an OHO community organizer. "In some apartment complexes you can count on the fingers of one hand the people who get back their deposits," she said. "CorporationS can write off their depreciation as a tax loss, but all the tenants have is a deposit. That's all they have to move with." While landlords can easily ruin the tenant's all-important credit rating by taking the person to court, civil action for an inexperienced tenant is cumbersome and slow. and legal help hard to get. Renfroe says the HRP ordinance is "exactly what is needed," but warns that sticking tenants with criminal penalties will again put them at a disadvantage, as Legal Aid helps only with civil cases and the Public Defender is swamped. Criminal penalties for tenants are being added to the bill largely because of two black Democrats on council, who voted with Republicans against fellow white liberáis and the HRP to amend the bill. "No one particular person is always in the wrong." explained Norman Kennedy, one of the councilmen. "h's nut in my lifestyle to say that one dass of persons, the landlords, is bad. We just want to equalize the responsibility." Smal] property owners and landlords are under their own kind of pressure. Rising taxes and infiation have not only made it harder to maintain property, but to squeeze money out of tenants who really don't have it. "1 won't rent for less than SI ,000 security deposit if this thing passes and nobody else will either," a landlord told the council Dec. 16. The man, Robert Dummitt. identified himself as a spokesman for the C'oncerned Pruperty Owners of Ypsilanti and is running tor mayor this spring as a Republican. "You are the council who works for the property owners," he repoi tedly told the council. Then. interrupted by jeers from the audience, he corrected himselt' witli the words "works for the taxpayers." "Council had better wat dl out." he snapped. "or tliey won't bc getting themselves elected." "I andlords aren't the only ones who pay taxes." the OEO's Renfroe said latei in the meeting. "There are ten pooi voters to every rich one in this city," she added. Unfortunately. many of them don't vote.