How local leasing companies are sidestepping city ordinance

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File Photo/Daily

 

Thursday, October 19, 2017 - 6:06pm

Upon arriving an hour and a half before the Prime Student Housing office opened Monday, Engineering junior Henry Burns was greeted by a sprawling line of almost 40 people who had beat him in his efforts to reserve an apartment.

The long line so far in advance of the office’s opening was the first indication of some off-campus properties attempting to navigate city ordinances to beat out their competitors.

“This is the first day that you could reserve a spot for signing a lease because leases aren’t allowed to be signed until November 10,” Burns said at the leasing office. “A lot of places get around it by having you sign a reservation earlier than that actual sign date, and this is the first day you’re allowed to sign a reservation and their office opened at 9 so people started getting here several hours beforehand. I heard people camped out and everything.”

Students who were already residents of Prime Student Housing were allowed to place new deposits as early as Oct. 13 and have the opportunity to renew a current lease up until 5 p.m. on Friday — afterward the market will open for anyone to sign for the apartment.

However, the office opened to the general public for deposits four days early on Monday. Only after deposits were placed would students be allowed to view their prospective apartments or residences, unless they had the chance to see the apartment of their own accord.

Some currently-leasing students received an email regarding the deposit opportunity with Prime on Monday, while others did not. Those who did not receive the email were informed of this date because they called the office prior to Monday, also of their own volition.

According to Business freshman Adya Pandey, Prime residences are in high demand due to their many different locations and relatively inexpensive pricing.

“I know that they have 20 other properties so it’s really popular and it’s really competitive because it’s cheap,” Pandey said.

A majority of students who planned to lease through Prime began waiting in line as early as 2 a.m., though many cited a few students who were waiting since 10 p.m. the night before.

During her three hour wait in line at the Prime Student Housing office, LSA freshman Rachel Westrick expressed confusion about Prime’s policies and the dates that students could place deposits.

“We called a while ago and they told us that the 23rd was the day that all the renewals were due, so that was the day that everyone would come,” Westrick said. “But then my mom checked a while back and they said you could just drop off a deposit whenever you wanted, to reserve a spot. So we came today and so I guess there was a line today. I don’t really understand that.”

Those who waited overnight at Prime to place a deposit were not all guaranteed housing; many — when finally through the door — were told their priority apartments were already in high-demand and to select another apartment, with minimal help. Students said they were not told which apartments were available, as the management company didn’t know. Others put down their deposit without knowing the repercussions if their desired residences would be filled by other tenants.

While waiting in line at the Prime Student Housing office for three and a half hours, LSA sophomore Kathryn Qin decided to find out if others were experiencing the same wait times as her.

“While I was in this line I actually called a different housing place, and apparently there was no line for that,” Qin said.

Monday’s line is just one example of problems students experience with Ann Arbor housing. While affordability and vicinity are key issues many lessors have attempted to tackle, students are also voicing concerns over what they call a non-transparent system.

Ann Arbor law prohibits leasing to occur until 70 days after the current lease period begins, meaning that students have only 70 days to decide if they want to renew their lease for the upcoming year. The time period between the date Prime tenants could move in — according to the website, Aug. 25 at the earliest, with an early move-in cost of $600 — and the renewal date of Oct. 20, is only 56 days, not 70.

Per Prime Student Housing, students could make appointments to view apartments or residences starting Oct. 23 — though the appointments would begin Oct. 27. 

Prime uses what they describe as “Option to Sign Deposits,” which allow students to lock down an apartment before the mandatory waiting period is over. Prime says that “Option to Sign Deposits” are for students who have already have seen the apartments on their own time, without an official tour from Prime itself. Students recalled their experiences knocking on doors and asking residents to see their current apartments or houses.

Prime’s “Option to Sign Deposits” bypasses Ann Arbor law by allowing students to reserve an apartment before the mandatory 70-day waiting period is over and without receiving a tour of the apartment that they are placing a deposit on.

Prime has noted its commitment to this law; on its website, the company states: “We cannot begin to show apartments until the mandatory time frame has passed.”

However, after several phone calls, Prime Student Housing Property Manager Annette Temple declined to comment for any portion of this report.

The Ann Arbor Housing Commission could not speak to this law due to being a Housing and Urban Development fund administrator. 

The City Attorney’s office also did not respond for comment at the time of publication.

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Illustration by Roseanne Chao

 

In comparison to other properties on campus — such as Cappo Management and Deinco Properties, Campus Management, Cabrio Properties and high-rises like Landmark — Prime is not completely unique.

For Cappo/Deinco Properties, though reservations are accepted Oct. 2 through Nov. 8 — similar to Prime — the company’s website explicitly states: “Leasing for Fall 2018-2019 does not begin until Nov. 10, 2017. … If current tenants renew, then fee is returned. If reservationists cancel or do not show up on 11/10 to sign the lease then reservation fee is forfeited. If the lease is signed then the $500 becomes part of the security deposit.”

This information — that the soonest the company can show properties or sign leases is November, but reservations can be taken as early as October — is also repeated on the automated message when calling the office. The overlap of a deadline to renew a lease and the time to sign a new lease, however, is not as stark as with Prime.

Further leasing difficulties can be found at Campus Management properties. The company utilizes a first come, first serve policy when it comes to applications for houses and apartments and states on their website that — in reference to this policy — “Unfortunately, in our fast paced rental market this does occasionally create footraces between groups vying to get back to our office first.”

Campus Management also charges a fee that equates to half a month of rent if an applicant decides to withdraw their application. The company explains this fee is necessary due to the lost time created by a withdrawn application. Campus Management did not respond for comment by the time of publication.

Unlike Prime and properties that operate similarly, Cribspot properties do not attempt to bypass this law and instead enforce the mandatory 70-day waiting period to sign leases and even to place deposits.

According to LSA junior Merissa Maccani, a future Cribspot resident, her group of roommates has not been able to sign the lease or place a deposit for their new residence yet because the current residents still have time within their 70-day window to decide if they wish to renew their old lease.

“We are waiting for a verbal no from the group of people that are currently living there,” Meccani said.

Similar to Cribspot, Oxford Companies allows current residents first right to renew until Nov. 8, according to the company’s website — just over three weeks past Prime’s current tenant deadline. The Oxford website also explicitly spells out the leasing and renewing process; residents can apply online and pay $200 per applicant — which is split $100 towards the application and $100 towards a security deposit. Once applications are received, an electronic lease is sent out and future residents have three business days to sign it. Once it is signed, “future residents will have 3 additional business days to pay the remainder of the security deposit, which is equal to 1.5X the monthly rent, minus the $100 you paid upon applying.” After this, a manager confirms the lease.

Olivia Zuver, property management and leasing assistant for the residential team at Oxford Companies, said the company’s move-in dates are slightly later, requiring them to apply the 70-day ordinance even if it moves the renewal date later in the season, than other properties.

“To give the proper amount of time, 70 days, that’s why we’re giving them to November 8," Zuver said. "Then, starting November 9, is when we’ll officially start touring and signing leases for new residents.”

Prior to the renewal date, residents can place a reservation in a similar fashion as the official application.

“We have reservations coming through basically every day for places,” Zuver said. “They’re applying, putting down an application (and) their fees, signing a lease and paying the security deposit — we’re just not countersigning that lease until November 9. If somebody were to put down a reservation on an apartment, and then the current residents decide that they are renewing, we can transfer that to a different apartment or house that we have available or we refund them all the money they’ve put down.”

Students say this process is substantially more straightforward than Prime’s; however, with disparities apparent in nearly every management company in Ann Arbor, many students feel frustrated with the lack of transparency.

LSA junior Rebecca Deitch, an Oxford tenant, said she had to do her own property tours prior to signing with the company.

“Me and my roommates went around the area that we wanted to live and knocked on doors and found out who was moving out,” Deitch said. “Also, looked online, but it was just more reliable to ask in person.”

Once they decided on a property, the roommates put down a reservation prior to the renewal date; while this process was informative, Deitch noted an overall lack of communication and unreliability within the company before signing.

The application process through Landmark — one of Ann Arbor’s luxury high rises — is also inconsistent with that of the others. Along with Landmark’s application, several fees must be submitted: a $100 non-refundable application fee, a $100 non-refundable move-in fee, a $100 non-refundable hassle-free fee and a refundable security deposit of $200.

Even on the application, Landmark has made it clear: “Accommodations are limited and will be leased on a first-come, first-served basis. The acceptance of (the) application does not ensure an accommodation. An accommodation is reserved only upon execution of the lease agreement by all parties.”

On the other hand, LSA freshman Sarah Renberg has had a different experience with another high rise.

Renberg — who is planning to sign a lease with three other roommates to live in Zaragon West next fall — spoke positively about her experience with the company.

Renberg said she found having four students live in a two-bedroom Zaragon West apartment substantially cheaper than most houses around campus — despite often considered a luxury complexwas.

Luckily, Renberg said she and one of her roommates both have the advantage of older siblings on campus to forewarn them of the difficulty of finding housing later on in the semester.

“We heard if you left Thanksgiving break without a lease, then you probably wouldn’t find one,” Renberg said. “We’re all freshmen, so that was intimidating and overwhelming. We started hearing that people were already signing for apartments and that those fill up pretty fast, so we tried to move as quickly as possible.”

Renberg and her roommates were able to set up tours in a few complexes and were able to see “model” apartments prior to filling out any paperwork. Once the roommates submitted the housing application — which they completed before fall break so their spot was held — a lease was sent to the group, which they had five days to sign.

Renberg voiced concern with other management companies and the inability to see most apartments before placing a deposit.

“I’m not going to pay for something I’ve never seen before. I think there’s a lot of risk in that, and I didn’t want to rely on just the pictures online,” Renberg said.

However, Renberg was overall happy with her experience, though she found it challenging and rushed.

“We didn’t want to wait and chance it,” Renberg said. “I’ve only known these people that I’ll be living with for six or seven weeks, and now I’m deciding to live with them again. So it’s definitely an accelerated process, but that’s just the way it is.”