It didn’t take much time for this year’s newly re-elected City Council candidates to forget their promises of working more closely with students. While students are out of the city for summer recess, the Council is considering an ordinance that will ban upholstered furniture on porches. Though the ban is meant to decrease the risk of fires, it both ignores the real problem — student houses often aren’t up to existing fire code — and fights it with an extremely ineffective and roundabout solution. If City Council’s aim is fire safety, it should replace this proposal with greater enforcement and education of the fire code already on the books.

The ban was first proposed to City Council in 2003 by the Ann Arbor Fire Department, when they argued that porch furniture is a fire hazard. Since then, the proposal has been tabled and reintroduced several times but has never gathered enough momentum to make it to a City Council vote. Most recently, April’s rash of suspicious fires — one of which was suspected to have started with a porch couch and led to the death of a University student — caused an Ann Arbor resident to encourage City Council to reconsider the ban.

In theory, the intentions of the initial proposal may seem honorable. But in practice, the ban really isn’t about fire safety. For many city residents, it’s about aesthetics. According to Daily coverage from 2004 and 2005, the proposal garnered the support of city residents because many thought that porch furniture is an eyesore. Yet this proposal bears almost entirely on students —not residents — so students should be the guiding voice in this discussion.

But that can’t happen when City Council attempts to push through a decision while most of them are not around to offer dissent and alternative proposals. And while a second reading and vote are scheduled for the tail end of September, a mere month following the hectic beginnings of the school year is an inadequate amount of time for students to advocate for this cause. Holding the discussion now ensures that the debate will be lopsided toward residents, as the majority of Ann Arbor’s student population isn’t around to make their voice heard — a voice which should hold just as much weight as non-student residents.

And while promoting fire safety is a necessary goal, this ban is an ill-conceived way to achieve it. The principal threat is the fact that many of the houses inhabited by students don’t comply with existing fire code, and this far exceeds any posed by couches. Hazards like old wiring and unsafe — or even nonexistent — fire escapes are much more dangerous. Landlords have a legal and moral responsibility to ensure that their properties — and, by extension, their tenants — are safe. That means that they must make sure that houses are up to code. Additionally, City Council should work with landlords to educate students about fire safety.

City Council shouldn’t be discussing such a student-focused issue while students aren’t in Ann Arbor to speak up for themselves. The timing of this measure is inconsiderate at best, disingenuous at worst. This proposal not only fails to attack the real cause of fire hazards — poor compliance with fire code — it ignores the input of the very people it will principally affect.

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