The responsibility of cleaning up Ann Arbor lawns littered with red solo cups from football Saturdays may soon shift from landlords to tenants. Recently deliberated amendments to sections 72 and 132 to the “Housing Law of Michigan” would directly ticket tenants for any fines accrued from violating ordinances regarding community standards of cleanliness and public welfare. Although the amendments may seem like an attack on student pocketbooks, these potential changes would create an improved level of notification for tenants. Students will now be made aware of what behaviors can result in fines, and they will now know the magnitude of the consequences. This new channel of communication between the city, tenants and the landlords displaces some of the uneasiness students can feel as they move off-campus.
Before these amendments were suggested, the responsibility of paying any fines issued by Ann Arbor fell to the landlord, and the city wasn’t required to notify the occupants of the building. Now, the revised clauses of the bill state that it’s the duty of the occupants of a dwelling to keep the premise “free from the accumulation of dirt, filth, rubbish, garbage or other matter in the yards, courts, passages, areas or alleys connected or belonging to the dwelling.” If the tenants of an apartment or house fail to do so, the city — in particular the Community Standards Unit of Ann Arbor — will issue a “written notice of violation” to the occupant. The landlord of the building will receive one as well.
In the past, when a landlord received a notification of a fine, he could inform the tenants at his discretion. Due to ineffective communication, a tenant could potentially commit the same offense over and over and unconsciously accrue a number of fines. Depending upon the landlord, the payment could come out of the owner’s pocket or possibly the security deposit of his tenants; and, there are myriad citations capable of making security deposit disappear. However, the landlord possesses the option to turn the fee over his tenants. According to the city, tenants can be fined for offenses ranging from overgrown grass, trash accumulation, parking in the yard to even “abandoned refrigerators.” In particular, tenants can be heavily fined for placing an upholstered couch upon the porch of their dwelling on the grounds that it is is a potential fire hazard.
Tom Koetsier, a member of the Rental Property Owners of Michigan, uses this example to illustrate his support for the bill. He claims that “landlords don’t put couches on porches, tenants do, and if they (the municipality) want it removed, they should cite the tenant for that.”
In the interests of protecting students and their security deposits, the University recently held an information session regarding the legal details potential tenants should know before signing a lease. Coupled with the proposal of this amended bill, the University and lawmakers in Lansing are doing a more effective job of providing students with information about the duties that come with renting. However, these two entities shouldn’t have to continue compensating for the lack of communication between landlords and students. Students also need to be adults and accept the responsibilities that come with living off-campus — even if that means paying for occasional bouts of laziness. However, students are incapable of fulfilling these obligations if landlords continue to provide them with insufficient information.