Multiple landlords and leasing companies in Ann Arbor are suing the city of Ann Arbor for a City Council ordinance passed Aug. 2 that gives tenants more time before they can be asked to renew their contracts.
The new Early Leasing Ordinance requires that landlords wait until 150 days prior to the end of a lease before showing a property to prospective tenants. Before this ordinance was passed, landlords only had to wait 70 days after a lease started before showing leasing units, though leasing companies have historically found ways to avoid the regulations.
Students and tenants have said the previous leasing timeline puts pressure on them to renew their leases or sign a new lease very early in the academic year. The ordinance aims to limit this pressure on tenants by giving them more time to decide if they want to renew as well as by giving them more time to search for the next year’s housing and roommates.
Landlords shared their opposition to the restrictions during previous City Council hearings and are now considering ways to get around the regulations, which went into effect Aug. 15.
The Washtenaw Area Apartment Association, a non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of rental property owners, filed a lawsuit on Sep. 10 against the city of Ann Arbor in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Michigan seeking to overturn the city’s early leasing restrictions.
The plaintiffs, which include several companies that lease to students in Ann Arbor, argue the ordinance violates the First Amendment’s protection of “restrictions on commercial speech” that apply to landlords.
The landlord plaintiffs claim the ordinance did not have a specific governmental purpose and was solely created with the “private purpose” of catering to University of Michigan students. They also argued the regulations would expand the presence of unregulated renting.
“By enacting the (ordinance provisions) at the behest of certain University of Michigan students, the City has exercised its police power in the service of special, private interests at the sole expense of Ann Arbor landlords,” the complaint reads. “The (provisions) simply serve (to) encourage off-books or black-market leasing activity.”
The Washtenaw Area Apartment Association did not respond to The Michigan Daily’s request for comment.
In an email to The Daily, Councilmember Travis Radina, D-Ward 3, who supported the Early Leasing Ordinance, wrote that any tenants who feel their landlords are violating the new ordinance should report the violation to the city.
Radina also wrote the council needed to take further action to support tenants in the city by creating an Ann Arbor Renters Commission. On Monday the council passed a resolution introduced by Radina to create this commission, making Ann Arbor the third city in the nation to implement a tenant commission.
“More needs to be done to help balance the scales of power in Ann Arbor’s rental market,” Radina wrote. “This body — comprised of and led by renters — will be able to thoughtfully explore changes to City policy and law that impact a majority of our City’s residents.”
Landlords will be able to participate in the commission in a non-voting capacity.
Student legal services also provides resources for issues with landlord disputes, termination of tenancy, lease reviews and evictions.
Several student organizations, including Central Student Government and the Graduate Employees’ Organization, lobbied over the past year for the City Council to implement protections for renters, which culminated in the Early Leasing Ordinance.
In a statement issued on Sept. 14, GEO called the lawsuit against the ordinance “nothing less than a declaration of war on Ann Arbor’s renters.”
Rackham student and GEO Contract Committee Co-Chair Amir Fleischmann said he has personally been pressured to renew a lease by landlords in Ann Arbor and said the Early Leasing Ordinance provides protections to give student tenants more time to renew their lease.
“I am disgusted, but certainly not surprised by this kind of behavior coming from Ann Arbor landlords,” Fleischmann said. “For Ann Arbor landlords to act like this modest protection that we won for Ann Arbor tenants is an attack on their fundamental property rights is laughable.”
Going forward, Fleischmann said GEO will urge the University to ban landlords supporting the lawsuit from promoting their housing options on University platforms and recommend that students lease with other landlords.
Besides seeking to overturn the ordinance, some landlords have also found ways to avoid parts of the ordinance’s restrictions, according to U-M alum Jordan Else.
Else owns and rents out multiple properties to students in Ann Arbor with her husband. Though she believes she is in the minority of landlords, Else said she supports the leasing ordinance and is complying with its requirements.
Else said landlords can still use positive incentives, such as offering a minimal rent price increase, to get tenants to sign or renew contracts early. She also said the ordinance could implicitly allow bigger companies to lease out “model units” that are designed just to be shown and aren’t occupied by a tenant.
Else said she had previously been concerned about how the traditional leasing timeline puts pressure on students, especially freshmen, to find housing a year in advance.
“If that better meets the students’ needs and also allows a little bit more equity between freshmen and upperclassmen, we like that that makes the playing field a little bit more fair for all students, and we’re happy to wait a little bit on leasing,” Else said. “(The ordinance is) just asking for a little bit different timeframe, which will make things a little bit more crunched for us, but we’re happy to try to accommodate that.”
One of the other exceptions to the Early Leasing Ordinance is that the city’s restrictions on when units can be shown to prospective tenants do not apply to contracts that last for eight months or less.
This policy creates a loophole, allowing landlords to change some contracts to an eight-month lease to get around the ordinance restrictions. In some cases, changing the terms of a tenant’s existing lease without their agreement may be illegal.
For residents like U-M alum Sarah Sisk, who lives in Ann Arbor, works for the University and is a graduate student at U-M Dearborn, having renting protections against these kinds of loopholes is important.
Sisk lives at Pine Valley Apartments, which is owned by Slavik Management. On Sept. 4, Sisk received an email from a leasing consultant at Pine Valley notifying her that the term of her 12-month lease was being changed to an eight-month lease “to comply with this City Ordinance.”
Pine Valley then emailed Sisk on Sept. 10 stating there was a “misunderstanding of the Ordinance” and the lease term for the apartment’s residents would not be changed.
In an interview with The Daily, Sisk said having the terms of her lease changed would have been stressful because she would have been forced to find new housing in April while taking exams.
“I really want to have a place that I feel like I can be settled and not have to be stressed out about these kinds of ridiculous rental situations,” Sisk said.
Slavik Management did not respond to requests for comment. The Daily reviewed both the Sept. 4 and 10 emails from Pine Valley.
Daily Staff Reporter Arjun Thakkar can be reached at email@example.com.