The annual fall rush for student housing in Ann Arbor may now be a thing of the past. On Monday, City Council passed an ordinance to push back lease-signing dates. The final ordinance is a victory for students – a rare piece of legislation from City Council that demonstrates council members are listening to student concerns. Unfortunately, the Council struck out a clause to stagger dates between when a landlord can show a property and when a lease can be signed that would have delayed the need to find housing until after fall term’s final exams. Still, the ordinance’s passage is a good sign that City Council is willing to work with students and Michigan Student Assembly. Students will need to keep up the pressure, however, to secure all their rights as tenants and residents.
Modeled after a similar ordinance out of Madison, Wisc., the legislation that passed Monday prevents landlords from showing a property or signing a lease on it for the first 90 days of a one-year lease. The ordinance’s passage resulted from both the dedication of students – particularly on the recently formed MSA-City Council committee – and the genuine good will of city officials. Continued cooperation between students and permanent residents can improve life for all who live in Ann Arbor.
Though an undeniably positive development for students, the ordinance is not perfect. It can only prevent a fall housing rush if most leases run from September-to-September. Nothing in the ordinance prevents landlords from switching to May-to-May leases and leasing properties for the next year in August. And City Council caved to landlords when it struck from the ordinance a clause that would have prevented any agreement to sign a lease until one-third of the lease period had passed. While the ordinance will prevent the worst problems with a fall housing rush – such as signing a lease with that guy down the hall who, it turns out, has a habit of drunken projectile vomiting – trying to simultaneously find housing and not fail final exams isn’t exactly an optimal situation.
The ordinance, especially after its last-minute adjustments, is far from the end of the fight to improve off-campus housing. Many students still live in houses and apartments with unsafe conditions, such as faulty locks and windows. Students need to push for safer and more sufficient living conditions and must make sure their needs are not ignored; one way to do so is by building student neighborhood associations to counteract the powerful influence that homeowners’ associations have in city politics. Ultimately, it may take a broad shift in the balance of local power – such as the construction of several more University residence halls or the elimination of the gerrymandering city wards that split the student vote – to make sure students’ interests receive the respect they deserve.