Students allege negligence from local property owner
In early April, The Daily published an article about Carlson Properties, detailing complaints from University of Michigan students over a neglected faulty water line and a wasp infestation. After the article was published, new students have reached out to The Daily to share their experiences as tenants of Carlson Properties.
In a light brown duplex on South State Street, Kinesiology junior Emma Keer and her two roommates lived in their newly-signed two bedroom, two bathroom home during the 2018-2019 academic year. A few weeks after moving in, Keer's dishwasher and dryer abruptly stopped working.
She tried to call landlord Garret Carlson, hoping to resolve the situation quickly, but said she kept getting sent to voicemail. Without any word that he had received her call, Carlson allegedly entered the property and began working on the appliances. Quite frequently, either Carlson or his maintenance worker would come into the property without any warning, Keer claims.
“He would walk in, do whatever, and obviously that wouldn’t sit well with us,” Keer said. “Three young girls, living alone, with a strange man coming into the apartment. We told him to email or give us a call when someone is coming over, but he said it was ‘too much work’ and that ‘he can’t call them, call you and then call them back because it was too hard to coordinate with them.’”
Later in the year around mid-February, Keer heard an unsolicited knock on her door followed by the turning of the door handle. Without notice, Carlson allegedly entered her property. This time, Keer said she decided to speak up.
“I told him all that we wanted just a phone call to let us know in case someone wants to shower or if no one was home,” Keer said. “He got up and started yelling at me and waving his hand in my face and stormed out of the apartment and slammed the door behind him. It was the most unprofessional interaction I’ve ever witnessed, and my roommates and I were absolutely shocked. We talked to him the next day, and I told him to never raise his hands in my face again because we felt very threatened. He never emailed back and did not respond to any of our questions for the rest of the year, even when the dishwasher was leaking and there was a bird in our apartment.”
Until the last few weeks of the year, Keer said Carlson ignored her and her roommates’ phone calls and emails, which Keer thought was because he was upset by the February altercation. When Keer’s lease was about to end before her and her roommates finished their finals, one roommate decided to ask Carlson to stay a few extra days to finish out the semester. For the first time in months, said Keer, Carlson responded.
“He replied something like, ‘given the way I was treated over the last year, I have no interest in letting you stay,’” Keer said. “But my roommate’s aunt is a lawyer, so she called him and he let us stay for three extra days — which was good — but that was pretty much all the communication we had with him toward the end. Although it was an unfortunate situation, there wasn’t anything that could be done.”
Like Keer, recent Business graduate Aishu Chandra didn’t think her situation with Carlson could be remedied. Taking legal action would be too much of a process, and fighting with Carlson to fix the heat in her roommate’s room wasn’t going anywhere: the only option, Chandra said, was to just deal with it.
“We were just so busy with stuff, and I had lived in (horrible) places before,” Chandra said. “I honestly just didn’t know what our rights were; I feel like we just lost a lot of energy.”
In an email to the Daily, Carlson denied tenants’ allegations of carelessness, failing to address claims in a timely manner and entering properties without notice.
“Since 1976 we have offered top-of-the-line houses and apartments for students seeking the very best housing on the U of M campus,” Carlson wrote. “We do not enter the properties unless we have been asked to by the tenants to fix something or we are preparing for an upcoming city housing inspection in which case the tenants are prior notified. For maintenance requests our tenants have the option to leave a voicemail, send an email or submit a maintenance request through our website whichever is most convenient for them. All emergency maintenance issues such as no heat are fixed promptly.”
Gayle Rosen, staff attorney of Student Legal Services, said she commonly sees attitudes like Chandra’s and Keer’s, where students — if they even come to Student Legal Services at all — don’t want to pursue any legal action as the process can become lengthy and expensive.
“I’m sure there are students out there that don’t know we exist, or that there is an option here,” Rosen said. “One issue that I see sometimes that I see with students that come to my office, they didn’t come here to litigate. They don’t often want to resolve things through litigation, so that’s a big issue too ... There are some situations where there is really no choice, there are certain situations where there is a little bit of a choice because the circumstances maybe are annoying but not really too bad, and they may not want to do something.”
In Michigan, landlords must provide a habitable property, meaning both the home itself and the outside premises must be in safe repair, reports michiganlegalhelp.org. Therefore, landlords must make needed repairs in a reasonable time after being made aware of them.
However, a landlord cannot enter a home without permission unless there is an emergency, use force or threaten to use force to remove tenants from their homes. Landlords are also not allowed to cause loud noises, bad odors or other nuisances.
Emergencies that require action within 24 hours, as described by the Michigan legislature, include a gas leak, flooding, defective furnace and major roof damage. All other problems fall under either “major” or “minor” repairs, meaning they affect the quality of the home, but do not put tenants in immediate danger. Major problems may be a clogged drain or a heating problem in part of the house, while minor problems include household pests or defective locks.
However, the general term “responsible repair” is not defined by law. Likewise, Rosen acknowledges a lack of a required period to address minor or major concerns.
“There’s no clear timeline for something like bugs, certainly if they don’t have something like one of the essential services like water or heat, those types of things could lead to a constructive eviction claim,” Rosen said. “But something else like maybe repairing a hole in the wall, that's not essential to living there—I mean, we generally have to put the landlord on notice in order for them to fix something.”
Carlson tenant Christiana Cromer, LSA senior, claims to have had a similar experience to Keer's.
“He will randomly show up without any warning,” Cromer said. “I’ve never heard of this man answering a phone. We saw termites, but he didn’t ever acknowledge he saw the message. He’ll just send an exterminator over. So then I’ll be doing my thing, cooking eggs, minding my business and the next thing I know, there's a man that I need to show my plumbing to.”
Cromer described her Arbor Street home as “livable,” but she said communicating with Carlson proved difficult. When one of Cromer’s roommates accidentally locked a key in her room, Cromer claims Carlson screamed at her for not having cash to replace the key and threatened to not open the door.
“It’s one of those questions that’s like why do people who hate kids become teachers, like if you hate your residents, don’t go into real estate — that sort of thing,” Cromer said.
Similarly, in a South Forest Avenue property, Chandra said she and her roommates would have workers entering her property after Saturday gamedays to fix her broken fridge, stairs, heater, sink and toilet. Each time she reported a problem, Chandra said, she was either ignored, or if Carlson answered the phone, greeted with contempt.
“One of the steps was not all there and it was during the winter and really icy and stuff. He wouldn’t come fix it, although we left voicemails and stuff and one of my roommates got a little bit angry,” Chandra said. “He called her back and (yelled at her). So, that I thought was very unprofessional for someone who is a landlord … Just everything was broken in our house and he would make it seem like it was our fault.”
To “provide evidence that he was a good landlord,” Carlson forwarded emails to the Daily from one tenant Taylor Slayton, a recent University graduate, who wrote in an April 24 email “thanks for being a great landlord and providing Apt 2 with housing this year!” Slayton said she was puzzled by this, describing her relationship with Carlson as hostile.
“My housemates and I, we barely even lived in the house,” Slayton said. “We’re all studying, we’re all older and I was like ‘guys, how do we get this (security deposit) back? He’s been so unreasonable. I decided I was just going to suck up to him because that worked the first time our payment was ‘late,’ plus depending on where I worked I might’ve needed a rec(ommendation) letter from my landlord. I don’t know why he would use my letter as a defense because we had our fair share of screams at each other.”
Slayton, like Keer, Chandra and Cromer, said she had a multitude of difficulties with her home. Despite Carlson’s alleged refusal to remove bedbugs, his allegedly false claims of lost rent, a leaking dent in the ceiling or having to wash her roommate’s hair in the sink due to a broken shower, Slayton said she “put up with it.” Like Chandra and Keer, Slayton said there seemed to be no easy solution.
“Yeah, he can totally step all over us,” Slayton said. “ Like, what am I going to do? I don’t have the money or time to sue him. He can totally do whatever he wants.”
Creating an enjoyable off-campus experience should be a top priority for the University, Cromer said. On top of classes, exams and working part-time jobs, Cromer said an unhappy home environment can aggravate a student’s already delicate state of mind.
“Basically just like when you go home in Ann Arbor, it has to be a good home,” Cromer said. “Because so much for mental health with college students has to do with that. (Carlson) can just really make it feel like not a good environment, and that’s the worst, who wants to go home to that? The last thing I should be worrying about is am I going to have water when I go home.”
Slayton suggests a landlord review by the University, similar to Central Student Government’s 2018-2019 Housing Management Survey. Yet, she fears if landlords begin to flounder, then already-high prices for housing may begin to rise.
“I don’t know how the University could do something without making the landlords take accountability and then having them make it more expensive to live here,” Slayton said. “So, on one hand — I totally get that.”
Chandra said she believes there should be a greater push for students to speak up for themselves.
“Landlords just think they can take advantage of students because no one is going to come in and speak for them, which is really what I think our landlord did,” Chandra said. “I think it's kind of a weird period because college students are not fully adults. We’re still young and getting to know how the world works.”
Rosen said she wants to remind students that addressing the situation can potentially lead to a better living solution. Over her time at Student Legal Services, she noticed a slight increase in the complaints filed. With these complains, she explained, the greater potential there is for change.
“We certainly see certain landlords get an uptick in complaints, and then they change,” Rosen said.