Ann Arbor landlords are creating waiting lists for apartments despite the Early Lease Ordinance
When a couple knocked on the door of Rackham student Jeffrey Lockhart on November 4th and asked if he was planning to renew his lease, Lockhart knew something was wrong.
As a renter of Oxford Companies, a popular real estate company in Ann Arbor, Lockhart said he was surprised to find potential tenants outside of his home asking about his renewal plans so they could potentially take on his lease next year. Lockhart said he received an email from the leasing company that said, “The leasing season is just around the corner.”
“(Oxford Companies) basically wrote the email as if the new regulation hadn’t happened and this leasing season was now beginning of October, which of course is no longer the case, because that’s the whole point of the new regulation”, said Lockhart.
In September, the city of Ann Arbor approved a new lease ordinance to protect students from being forced to sign leases nearly a year before leases were due to start. Several stakeholders were involved in developing the law, including the Graduate Organization, the Central Student Union, tenants and landlords.
The new lease regulation gives existing tenants the “right to extend” their current lease up to 150 days before the lease expires. In addition, landlords can only show a property to new tenants 150 days before the current lease expires. Previous laws allowed landlords to show potential tenants property 70 days after the current lease was signed. Landlords filed a lawsuit against the city of Ann Arbor in September against the new ordinance.
Now, many tenants say landlords are finding loopholes in the new regulation and pressure students in current leases to renew their contracts much earlier than the accepted period.
Engineer Senior Nathan Nohr is currently a resident of Prime Student Housing, a local housing authority. In a statement to The Michigan Daily, Nohr said there was a waiting list process for current residents. According to Nohr, a reservation requires payment of one and a half months rent, which means that residents have to sign priorities in March – a move that Nohr described as unfair.
“Prime Student Housing informed the current residents in September that we had to terminate our rental agreement or that they would open reservations for our apartment,” wrote Nohr. “This bypasses the ordinance and still requires students to renew at the beginning of the year, forcing other potential residents now to make hefty reservations if they want to make sure they get a place. If students choose not to respond to the waiting list reservation, they will lose the rental reservation fee. ”
As a GEO member in the union’s housing assembly group, Rackham student Lucy Peterson said the legislation was widely supported by GEO members as many in the organization experienced their own housing problems as PhD students.
“Many of us have had problems with early rentals as PhD students who have lived in town for a while,” said Peterson. “Graduates have to deal with a great deal of precariousness in their work because we may have to do research for a semester, get a job and have to move. The idea of having to sign a tenancy agreement 10 months in advance therefore puts an enormous strain on doctoral students in particular. “
Peterson said she believes some landlords are using bribes and threats to encourage tenants to sign the leases early.
“(Some landlords) rely on tenants to be scared and isolated and worried about their home security to encourage them to renovate,” Peterson said. “The landlord is free to use pressure, coercion, manipulation, bribes and threats to persuade their existing tenants to renew or to say that they will not renew.”
CSG President Nithya Arun, a senior public health worker, said she had also received an email from University Towers – a popular student dormitory complex – saying they were ready to accept leases for next year sign. She said CSG had received many complaints from students expressing frustration over their landlords’ disregarding the new regulation.
“I immediately thought that the lease period should not open until March, so that seems to be a violation,” said Arun.
Lockhart said there is also a power dynamic between landlords and tenants that makes it difficult for some tenants to stand up for tenant rights who don’t necessarily understand city council rules.
“If I didn’t follow the local council bylaws and pay careful attention to them, I would have no idea that I wouldn’t have to make that decision now,” Lockhart said. “These are the people who control whether you have an apartment, how much you pay for an apartment, they have a lot of power and it is very easy for landlords to make people’s lives miserable.”
Arun said she and other CSG members felt very passionate about housing issues as they had previously had problems with leasing as well. Despite all efforts by CSG, GEO, and the city council to pass this bill, Arun said the same problems still prevail.
“Many shareholders have spent time drafting this bill and making sure that students benefit from it and are not pressured to sign leases ahead of time, and now it almost feels like nothing has changed,” said Arun.
Since landlords now have to wait longer than in previous years to sign leases for their properties, many are offering voluntary waiting lists for new tenants, according to Jordan Else, a landlord of Wessinger Properties. Else was a resident, parent of a UM student and now a landlady with her husband in the Ann Arbor housing market.
The concept of the voluntary waiting list varies with each landlord, but the concept allows tenants to reserve a space in a specific building or unit in advance without officially signing a lease, as leases cannot currently be signed, Else said.
Else said she is in favor of the regulation and feels that there is confusion about how the regulation will affect leases starting in May versus those starting in September. With the new regulation, she said new leases can be signed in May now in early December and September leases can be signed in March.
“I think part of the reasons why it all doesn’t work so well and historically hasn’t worked so well is that an educational piece is missing,” Else said.
With full intent to endorse the regulation, Else explained how she and her husband will advance their plans to start leasing next year in compliance with the new rules. With these changes, she said her greatest fear is the certainty of entering the new leasing season.
“Our group houses are rented in May and our plan is that we will send them a note about the extension from the beginning of November and that they have essentially 30 days to make a decision about the extension,” said Else. “Then we will start issuing and signing from the 150-day mark, ie at the beginning of December. It affects us because we are nervous that we could have a lot of problems with leasing because so many people are not following (the new regulation). “
Else said her leasing company is not introducing a voluntary waiting list as she believes it is not within the meaning of the regulation.
“Our decision is that we don’t create waiting lists because we see that exactly as signing a lease and that completely misses the purpose of the regulation,” said Else. “Ultimately, I don’t think (the new regulation) will have a huge impact on us, but it affects us because I’m sad for the students and sad that this plan didn’t have the effect they hoped for.”
Else also said there needs to be more accountability and stricter consequences for landlords who violate the new regulation. Currently, the city of Ann Arbor is encouraging residents to report landlords who defy the ordinance. If guilty, the landlord will be fined $ 500.
“I find it problematic that the victim is burdened,” says Else. “Plus, the landlord fined $ 500 and there are no other ramifications for the city or your certificate of residence. That the fine is so small is annoying, so most people will just say, ‘I’ll take the risk, that’s fine.’ “
The Daily Staff reporter Kaitlyn Luckoff can be reached at [email protected]