GEO and Councilor Nelson are trying to change leasing laws to make student housing easier to find
Every August, Ann Arbor is full of excitement when students return to campus. Moving trucks line the inner streets, and students begin the tedious process of hauling mattresses up steep stairs and turning a house into a home for the year.
But less than three months after settling in, many students begin the hunt for the next rental cycle from August to August. Although the students are sometimes unsure of what their life situation will be like in the next year, they often sign rental contracts to ensure they can stay on or near campus – sometimes with people they won’t be with a year later are friends.
Ann Arbor’s 2006 city ordinance currently requires landlords to wait 70 days after tenants sign their lease before showing the property to others or asking current tenants to sign again. For most students, this means that the landlord can start looking for tenants for the next year from the end of October when the lease starts in August. This practice continued during the COVID-19 pandemic last fall when some students were forced to sign rental contracts without knowing whether classes would be online or in person next year.
To alleviate widespread student frustration with the Ann Arbor student housing market, the Graduate Employees’ Organization worked with Elizabeth Nelson, Ann Arbor City Councilor, D-Ward 4, to implement a new ordinance that would require landlords to pay at least 240 Have to wait days before signing or showing a property for the next year.
Rackham student and GEO secretary Amir Fleischmann said his landlord approached him in early November and asked him to terminate his lease. This put him in the difficult position of resigning for reasons of convenience or of having to look for an apartment again.
“I didn’t want to be in this apartment for the next year and I wasn’t able to get out of them,” said Fleischmann.
Most undergraduate and graduate students sign a lease without knowing what they are up to for the coming year, Fleischmann said. Some students choose to travel abroad or take the semester off to do an internship later in the school year. The students are bound by a rental agreement, regardless of whether they choose to stay in the house.
“This forces tenants to make a commitment that is very difficult to get out of, and it puts a lot of pressure on people who really don’t know where they will be that far in advance, and it forces people into trouble to make decisions that they are really not ready to make at this point, ”said Fleischmann. “As of this writing, landlords are legally licensed to harass tenants so they can terminate their leases before they’re ready.”
Rackham student Ember McCoy said she has had problems with the housing market every year since she first moved to Ann Arbor for her masters degree. In the six years of her life in Ann Arbor, McCoy said she was approached five times by landlords asking her to extend her lease in October.
After her lease began in August 2020, McCoy said she and her sister were approached by their landlord on October 19, which was prior to the current 70-day regulation and therefore illegal. McCoy said she was asked to extend her lease, notified of a rent increase, and had five days to decide whether she and her sister would live there the following year.
McCoy said her sister was in the process of applying for graduate school and wasn’t sure she would stay in Ann Arbor for the next year. The couple didn’t see the email from their landlord the first time it was sent five days earlier, and when they opened the email they found they had 24 hours to make a decision.
“We just needed more time,” said McCoy. “They gave us 24 hours and obviously nothing in our circumstances changed within 24 hours. So they signed our lease to someone else in the first week of November from August 2021 to 2022. This was the first time I was hurt by the system. I had known this was a problem and it was always very frustrating for me, but this is the first time I have been personally affected. “
Nelson, who said she had never experienced the Ann Arbor rental market, said she was unaware of the 70-day regulation before GEO asked for her help. With an ordinance already in place, Nelson said the next step would be to introduce a resolution or amendment to the ordinance for a vote in the city council.
“When I read the (current) regulation, I found that we were actually trying to make a timeline that was pathetically short,” said Nelson.
Nelson said the city has the legal right to limit the amount of time landlords must wait before showing a property, making this proposal possible.
Nelson said she met with the city officials who are in charge of enforcing rental regulations and found that the current regulation is not heavily regulated. No one has been tried or questioned about their violations, Nelson said. The city has only received phone calls from tenants who reported their landlords for violating the ordinance, but landlords are rarely held accountable, Nelson said.
“The reason there probably hasn’t been meaningful enforcement is because the standard is so low that we’ve set the bar so that anyone can easily meet the 70-day limit. There is little temptation to follow the current regulation because (70 days) is already such a low bar, ”said Nelson.
Nelson said this issue is about finding a balance between landlords and their tenants, who are both involved in the housing market. Nelson said she was working with city coordinators to determine the limits of the possible new regulation and how it can be enforced.
“This is one of those situations where we balance the interests of the person who owns the property and the person who rents the property,” said Nelson. “If we were to pass a regulation stating that the landlord cannot show the property and cannot even request an extension up to 24 hours before the lease expires, it would be unjustifiable as an owner could argue (that) we had made it impossible for them to use their property. ”
Nelson said she met with a landlord who rents a house in Ann Arbor who said she never felt the need to pester her tenants because the market was hot and she was confident of finding a student at some point, who is interested in renting the property.
Another landlord, Margaret Wyzlic, Marketing Manager for Oxford Companies, said if the number of days required to re-let changes, they will meet the days and continue to adhere to Ann Arbor City leasing regulations.
“If that number changes, students will have more time to make a decision,” said Wyzlic. “I think that’s an integral part of the idea of lengthening the time frame, which (…) depends on which person you are in the equation has advantages or disadvantages. We are happy to support you with every decision. “
Wyzlic said Oxford Companies were unsure how the new regulations, if passed, would change the city’s housing market.
“(If the new regulations are passed) we will continue to work within the established regulations and continue to do our best to show potential tenants our units,” said Wyzlic. “We love working with University of Michigan undergraduates – both undergraduate and graduate students – and we’ll just do our best to keep showing off our spaces.”
GEO hopes this resolution will be passed by the council before the end of the 2022 term, Fleischmann said.
Fleischmann said he was concerned about how the council would approach GEO’s proposal. He said even though 54% of Ann Arbor residents are renters, all council members are homeowners, which allows the city council not to be tailored to the needs of students and renters.
“Tenants are not represented in the city council at all,” said Fleischmann. “And this is a really important constituency that the landlords in particular are really holding to account. So I hope that the (councilors) recognize the existing power imbalance and understand that they are there to fight for us, not for the landlord’s pocket. “
Daily employee reporter Shannon Stocking can be reached at [email protected]