The Ann Arbor City Council witnessed a lively debate Tuesday between tenants and landlords during a public hearing on the Early Leasing Ordinance, drawing attention to the complexity behind the issue. City Council unanimously approved to remove certain language in the proposal and is expected to finalize approval of the ordinance at the next meeting on Aug. 2.
The proposal approved at the July 6 City Council meeting includes a “right to renew” protection for tenants to secure a lease until 150 days before the lease expires. This means that landlords are prohibited from advertising, showing or leasing a rental unit until 150 days of the lease are left. Under the current ordinance, landlords are allowed to start the renewal process as early as 70 days into the lease, which tenants have long expressed frustrations around the rushed timeline.
Also included in the proposed ordinance was a “just cause for eviction,” which allows landlords to evict a tenant if they fail to pay rent, vacate upon notice or violate other terms of the lease.
In the last City Council meeting, Councilmember Lisa Disch, D-Ward 1, said she was hesitant to include references to a “right to renew” time period for fear of legal repercussions. Based on legal advice, the co-sponsors of this amendment, councilmembers Elizabeth Nelson, D-Ward 4, Travis Radina, D-Ward 3, and Disch, will remove references to the “right to renew” and a “just cause for eviction” at this time. Nelson said she is going to continue to work towards this change in the future, citing the benefits of this housing policy in other communities.
Several Ann Arbor renters and landlords called in to voice their opinions regarding the proposed ELO during the public comment section of the meeting. Graduate Employees’ Organization housing caucus member Amir Fleischmann said he believes the residents of Ann Arbor need the ELO for 210 days. Fleischmann previously said the current ELO gives landlords room to pressure tenants into resigning their lease before they are ready.
“Being forced to find a rental agreement before you’re ready can ruin people’s lives,” Fleichmann said. “It can force people into unsafe living conditions and potentially drive them into bankruptcy. A compromise is not the landlords getting what they want.”
The petition to extend Ann Arbor’s Early Leasing Ordinance to 210 days has over 1,000 signatories, 79% of which are U-M students. However, during the public hearing many landlords said that this is not what renters want.
Founder of Eladott real-estate brokerage Jen Langenburg shared her concerns with council members about issues that may arise when many Ann Arbor residents are looking to rent apartments at the same time. Langenburg said she believes renters want to avoid that situation.
“With mandating such a late timeline in the leasing renewal process, it will create an urgency of being homeless by prospective tenants and current tenants unless they’ve renewed,” Lagenburg said. “There’s no way to properly field the demand that will be created by the frenzy when the leasing floodgates open.”
Zackariah Farah, Vice President of LSA Student Government, said one of the problems he hears students talk the most about is finding an apartment, and he believes this amendment will lessen that burden.
“With the 210 day right to renew, students will not be frantically searching for a new apartment only two months into their lease,” Farah said. “When (landlords) claim to speak on behalf of students saying the opposite of what the students here today are saying, I can only hope that you will rightfully dismiss their claims and listen to the students that have spoken.”
John Keller, owner of J. Keller properties, which manages about 200 homes in the Ann Arbor area, voiced his opposition to changing the ELO due to logistical concerns with the timeline.
“This is not a seasonal industry, this is not Christmas shopping,” Keller said. “We need to be leasing properties all year round… The vast majority of renters are not graduate students, and half of renters in this town are not students at all. What you’re trying to do is noble, but it will not work.”
Rackham student Aidan Terhune, an organizer for Ann Arbor Tenants Union, said that while landlords are concerned about their bottom line, renters are seeking a less stressful experience in finding a place to live.
“Every single student I’ve ever talked to in my time at the University of Michigan is actively resentful at the fact of how quickly we have to figure out our housing,” Terhune said. “Students are absolutely not driving that quick turnaround for finding a new place — we’re forced into it, and no one is really happy about it.”
Following commentary from callers, the councilmembers took time to reflect on the discussion. Disch noted the conflicting opinions of landlords and tenants on opposing sides of the issue.
“We’re hearing very different stories: from landlords about would-be tenants anxiously trying to secure housing in November or before, and from tenants we’re hearing (about) landlords approaching them to renew two months into their lease and using the prospect of a rent increase to leverage an early resigning,” Disch said.
Radina said he believes the amendment to ELO should be a priority because of the reality of the renters’ situation.
“I don’t think we are acting out of the belief that all landlords are evil or bad actors, but I think there is an important power imbalance that exists in the rental market here in Ann Arbor that needs to be addressed,” Radina said.
Daily Staff Reporter Scarlett Bickerton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.