“No person shall store solid waste or solid waste containers on property except at locations as permitted by this chapter or regulations implementing this chapter.”
This is the section of the City Code of Ann Arbor my house was cited under Oct. 5 during the football game against Minnesota. My housemates and I hosted a party on the front lawn and about 50 cups had been left on our porch and scattered around the lawn when we all left to go to the football game. Those cups remained there until my roommates and I cleaned them up.
In 2002, Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje and the City Council enacted this ordinance, among others, under the Clean Community Program. They were intended to keep “unsightly debris and buildup of trash off the lawns,” according to former councilman Michael Reid in 2005. Trash had become an issue in the Ann Arbor area near the University’s campus — student housing — and the city council was determined to do something about it. Fines in association with infractions of these ordinances have incrementally increased over time, reaching $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense and anywhere from $500 to $1,000 for every subsequent offense.
The ordinances were put into place because the trash that had began to accumulate on the lawns of houses was detrimental to the image of the city and University and was potentially damaging property values in the area. It’s true that trash remaining on the front lawn of a house for days or weeks on end might very well damage the image of the city as a whole, but property values in areas where the houses are almost entirely student rentals isn’t really a huge issue. The rental companies that own the houses aren’t really worried about the resale value of the property, as students will rent the houses regardless — not buy them — and these companies are going to hold onto their properties for a long time.
The lawmakers in Ann Arbor have denied that these ordinances are targeting students, but the vast majority of citations — 196 of the 261— in the year 2007 were issued during football season, from September through November. In the hearing my roommates and I had, the community standards officer that issued the citation said that she was told to go around during the football game on Oct. 5 and issue citations — conveniently when the majority of the students will be at the game and not be able to either clean the property or speak with the issuing officer.
While I agree that littering tickets should be issued when waste is left on lawns or property for extended periods of time, being tasked with going out during the football games and seeking out offenders causes citations to be disproportionately issued to students. The magistrate dealing with my ticket said that there was no timeframe for the littering ordinance, meaning the ticket can be issued no matter how short of a time the trash has been on the property.
The students and the University itself bring Ann Arbor a huge amount of economic activity. If this ordinance is centered on increasing revenue for the city, they shouldn’t attempt to get that revenue from students. Students support a huge amount of the business around the University — be it at local stores or by renting properties around the campus — which in turn gives the city money. The city exists at its current state because of the University and can get revenue from other sources. Ann Arbor has lower property taxes than Detroit and, should they need revenue, could raise those property taxes. Attempting to get revenue from students, who most likely don’t have excess funds, is wrong.
The ordinance could have been dealt with in other ways. For example, the city could have started this process with a warning system for houses that aren’t repeat offenders of the ordinance, telling the residents to clean their property within 24 hours or otherwise receive a citation. The city should respect the students of the University and not specifically target them with punitive legislation.
Matthew Seligman is an LSA junior