The rush to find off-campus housing will be dramatically different next fall if Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje succeeds in passing a city ordinance that would restrict landlords from leasing apartments and houses until after the fall semester is over.

Beth Dykstra
A student looks over a lease agreement. Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said he will attempt to push lease-signing dates to after winter break. (photo illustration by Eugene Robertson)

“My plan is to start work on developing this ordinance internally with our legal people, and with the council members, and move this so that we have it in place by the end of summer,” Hieftje confirmed in an interview with The Michigan Daily.

Hieftje said he was unsure of what the specifics of the ordinance will be. For example, he said he would like to write the ordinance in such a way that, while landlords would be barred from leasing apartments and houses early, exceptions could be made for students who want to lease apartments before the start of winter semester. However, he said he does not know how this would be done.

It is also unclear whether Hieftje plans to design the ordinance so that it would prevent landlords from showing apartments before a specified date, or whether it would only apply to leasing.

University Housing spokesman Alan Levy said an ordinance like the one Hieftje is proposing has been talked about for quite some time.

“There have been concerns on the part of students feeling pressured to sign off-campus leases ever earlier,” Levy said. “Some of that is real; some of it is perceived.”

Levy said such an ordinance would not have an impact on University housing contracts.

Currently, many students say they are pressured to sign leases in September and October, long before they have had a chance to look at all available housing options and to find roommates. Additionally, some students said they are asked to re-sign leases after only living in their apartment or house for a month or two.

LSA sophomore Mark Kuykendall said later lease dates would be good for students.

“It’ll allow students more time to find a good roommate and the best possible apartment, especially if you’re a new student and don’t know anybody,” Kuykendall said.

Many students said they feel pressure to sign leases early, but don’t know whether the housing rush stems from competition with other students or from the landlords themselves.

“When I was a sophomore, I really felt pressure to lease an apartment early,” said Miguel Guzman, an LSA senior. “I don’t really think the pressure comes from landlords, because they’re going to be able to rent their apartments no matter what. If you don’t lease their apartment, another student will.”

Some landlords in Ann Arbor said they believe the pressure students feel to sign leases early is unnecessary.

“I like to think that the market — the market being the residents — sets the pace for the rental season,” said Tom Clark, a landlord who owns several apartment buildings in Ann Arbor. “(The housing rush) gets earlier and earlier every year, to the point that we’re not even ready to lease apartments and we tell students to call us back later.”

Clark said he didn’t think the ordinance would hurt his business, but would make certain times of the year extremely busy because all students would be leasing apartments in a short period of time.

Colin Khan, owner of CMB Management in Ann Arbor — a company that leases apartments to students — said he was very surprised that the mayor was proposing such an ordinance, and said he feels such a law could actually harm students.

“I’m opposed to anything that would hinder the ability of the residents to secure housing in any fashion,” Khan said. “What if someone is going away to study abroad second semester? They would lose the opportunity to secure an apartment for the following year.”

Hieftje said he plans to consult ordinances in other cities while formulating the one for Ann Arbor.

“We’ll have to explore our options,” Hieftje said. “We’ll need to go back and to look at the actual legislation in other places (that) have ordinances like this.”

One university town that has passed such an ordinance is Madison, Wisconsin.

Madison’s original ordinance was passed in 2000 and stipulated that a landlord could not ask a tenant to re-sign their lease or show a tenant’s apartment until one-third of the lease was up.

Austin King, a member of Madison’s Common Council, said the ordinance was good for tenants but did present some problems.

The average 12-month lease in Madison begins on August 15, which meant that the date when landlords could re-lease and show apartments was December 15, which was during UW’s fall exam period.

But prospective tenants could bypass the ordinance by looking at apartments on their own, without the help of the landlord.

Another problem stemmed from the fact that since landlords couldn’t show apartments until December 15, students went about looking at apartments on their own.

If they liked an apartment they would go to the landlord and ask them if they could lease it. But, because of the ordinance the landlord was unable to talk to current tenants about re-signing their lease, but could talk with prospective tenants.

Madison Common Council member Mike Verveer said these problems were fixed when the ordinance was revised in the fall of 2004.

The new law now states that a landlord cannot show an apartment or ask the current renter to re-sign their lease in the first quarter of the lease period, which ends on Nov. 15 for most leases.

The revised ordinance also allows tenants to negotiate in their lease contract a date other than Nov. 15 for re-signing their lease.

Students at the University of Wisconsin had mixed feelings on the ordinance.

Eric Varney, a junior at UW, said he feels the Nov. 15 date is still too early.

“You’re only a quarter of the way through your current lease,” Varney said.

“I’d say the middle of January or February would be the ideal time to re-sign leases. At that point you’ve already lived in your apartment for five or six months, and you know if you want to live there again.”

But Grant Collins, a junior at UW, said he thinks the system works well for students.

“It’s a lot more convenient,” Grant said. “Most sophomores who leave university housing don’t even have to worry about finding off-campus housing until December.”

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